Jovanna was walking home after a morning of hospital consultations when she heard a shout behind her. As she turned to look, she felt something wet in her face. Within seconds, her vision went cloudy and she smelled bleach.
“They picked me out because I was wearing scrubs,” said the ear, nose and throat doctor from the Mexican city of Guadalajara, as she described the attack which left her with conjunctivitis and burns on her skin. “I didn’t see anything – I don’t know who it was, but I know they attacked another doctor on the same day.”
In most of the world, medical staff have been lauded as heroes for their response to the coronavirus pandemic. But in Mexico, the growing number of COVID-19 cases has brought with it a wave of violence against nurses and doctors who have wrongly been accused of spreading the disease.
At least 21 medical workers have been attacked in 12 states across the country, according to Fabiana Zepeda, the head of nursing for the Mexican Social Security Institute.
Her voice breaking with emotion, Zepeda told reporters this week that many health workers had started to change out of their uniforms when they travelled to and from work, to avoid being targeted.
“I have worn my nurse’s uniform for 27 years with great pride – as do doctors. But today we are taking off our uniforms because we don’t want to be injured,” she said.
So far, Mexico has seen 9,501 confirmed coronavirus cases and 857 deaths, but health officials admit that the true infection level is at least eight times higher as the country has limited testing capacity.
On Tuesday, the health undersecretary Hugo López-Gatell who has led Mexico’s response to the pandemic, announced that the virus had reached the stage of rapid spread, and warned that “a large number of infections and hospitalisations” were imminent.
The country’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, drew criticism for initially downplaying the need for social distancing measures, and doctors and nurses have held protests and strikes over the lack of personnel and safety equipment.