The Amnesty International in an open letter to Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health, Dr Zafar Mirza, has expressed concern regarding the “devastating tally” of health workers in Pakistan affected by the coronavirus.
“I am writing to you out of extreme concern for the lives and safety of health workers in Pakistan, who have played an extraordinary and critically important role in the response to the COVID-19 outbreak,” wrote Head of Amnesty International’s South Asia Office Omar Waraich.
The human rights watchdog reminded the SAPM that health workers are particularly vulnerable to the virus as they are consistently and repeatedly exposed to it.
“This is a devastating tally,” said Waraich. He explained that the health workers deserve everyone’s gratitude but also state’s protection in the face of such imminent danger to their lives.
The human rights watchdog also raised concerns regarding “several instances of violence against health workers across Pakistan since April”.
“Hospitals have been vandalized, many doctors have been attacked, and one was even shot by a member of the Counter Terrorism Force,” said Amnesty. In the letter, it also added the Young Doctors Association comment claiming that health workers are being attacked on a daily basis and that the exact number of such incidents were “beyond count.”
Waraich added that ministers have issued several statements claiming that hospitals have the necessary resources, despite reports that hospitals have been forced to turn away even critical patients, given the shortage of beds, ventilators and other life-saving equipment.
"This puts health workers in danger as people do not believe them when they say they do not have room for more patients," said the human rights watchdog. It also acknowledged that even the best and most well-resourced healthcare systems are struggling with the pandemic but insisted that it was “critical” that the government takes all reasonable measures to protect health workers.
The watchdog also urged the government to “promptly investigate” any attacks or acts of violence against health workers in a thorough, independent and impartial manner, and stated that perpetrators must be brought to account.
“Ensure that employers – whether public or private provide all health workers with adequate PPE to protect themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with international standards,” said AI. It added that the government should also “immediately” put in place protocols to ensure that managers of all facilities where health workers work conduct an analysis of what risks their staff face.
The watchdog also called on SPAM Dr Mirza to set up systems to document any violent incidents, discrimination and/or stigmatisation faced by health workers during the pandemic.