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How would you deal with people fueling the stigma around and hate against frontline workers who are risking their lives to keep you and everyone else safe from Covid-19? Nepal’s health workers might have found the answer. 

For the past few days now, hundreds of health workers have been taking to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to protest their being stigmatized and to draw attention to the abuse being perpetuated against them and their families. Through these posts, the health workers warn hatemongers that they may have to choose between harassing frontline workers or availing of their services if they do not stop spewing hate. 

“I am a doctor. I might be #Covid19 #Positive (+ve). It’s your choice either to protest in front of my house, or choose to get my health care service,” Umakanta Tiwari writes on a Facebook post. 

Jamuna Gautam writes: “I am a Nurse. I might be #Covid19 #Positive (+ve). It’s your choice either to protest in front of my house, or choose to get my health care service.” 

It’s not just doctors and nurses but also other health professionals–like lab technicians, pharmacists etc–who are using these posts to speak out against discrimination. 

One Facebook user, A-Neil Tharu, writes: “I am a PHARMACIST and PARAMEDIC. I work as a Medical Representative. I might be #Covid19 #Positive (+ve). It’s your choice either to protest in front of my house, or choose to get my health care service.” 

LoVe Dhungana writes: “I am a #medical_Laboratory_technologist. I might be #Covid19 #Positive (+ve). It’s your choice either to protest in front of my house, or choose to get my health care service.” 

The warnings come at a time when a growing number of health workers are facing widespread abuse and discrimination arising from the fear and stigma around Covid-19. On Saturday, locals of Milantol, Baneshwor, tried to evict Civil Hospital health workers staying at a hostel in the locality. Police and local representatives later had to mediate with the locals to allow the health workers to continue living at the hostel.  

Frontline workers from other professions, including bankers, as well as family members, friends, and other social media users are sharing similar posts expressing solidarity against the stigmatization of workers providing essential services.  

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, in March, health workers in Nepal have been fighting a two-front battle: against the coronavirus and against the stigma attached to Covid-19. 

Many health workers–especially in rural areas–as well as other frontline staff remain highly susceptible to the virus because they continue to provide service despite their not being equipped with basic safety gear. 

As it is, Nepal has far too few health professionals to meet regular healthcare demand, let alone during crises like the Covid-19 pandemic: there are hardly 17,000 in a country with a population of more than 28 million. 

The government has been downright negligent in looking out for Nepal’s health workers. It’s now six months after the lockdown, and yet health workers across the country continue to grapple with a shortage of N-95 masks, protective medical goggles, surgical tools, face shields, medical gloves, medical shoe covers, and sanitisers. Many are working without pay. 

Exact data is hard to come by, but news reports suggest that frontline workers are among the groups worst affected by the coronavirus. 

With the growing infection rate among health workers, it is becoming harder for doctors and nurses to find a room or a place to carry out their work. Media have also documented cases about locals sealing the homes of medical staff or putting up warning signs outside the homes of infected health workers.  Many nurses have been told by their landlords to vacate their rooms or to provide certificates that prove they are not infected. Other frontline workers are also facing similar stigma. 

 

But even though such targeted attacks started occurring right after the nationwide lockdown was clamped, local authorities have done little except warn perpetrators in most cases or merely prevent such incidents from spiraling out of hand. So far, the police have only charged one person–for allegedly misbehaving with Dr Narayan Karki, director of Bagmati Provincial Health Laboratory–according to the Metropolitan Police Range. Dr Karki was harassed and denied entry into Kathmandu Valley by locals of Nagdhunga while he was coming to the capital from Hetauda to undertake official duties.