The whole world is fighting against an unknown enemy which has turned into a global pandemic unlike any of the past. The COVID-19 virus has brought the world to its knees and even the most powerful countries are struggling to cope up with it. It is the biggest public health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced in the last century.
During this critical time, healthcare professionals are working to put up resistance against the pandemic by risking their lives. They are fighting as the frontline warriors against COVID-19. Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, this is not the only uphill battle they are facing. They are also fighting against unsafe working conditions and acts of violence.
In the recent lockdown episode, we have seen doctors facing unwanted situations on the streets. However, the history of doctors and other healthcare professionals being harassed in the line of duty is not something new. We have seen numerous incidents of attacks on doctors by patients and their relatives. People visiting hospitals are mostly high on emotions and withing the poor infrastructure and overcrowded hospitals, emotions can run wild. In the recent past, we have observed many notable incidents of violence against doctors in our country.
In one such incident, one Dr. Rakib, director of Raisa Clinic and Diagnostic Centre, was brutally killed by the patient's family members. In another incident, an intern doctor was beaten up by the elder son of a patient who died in the CCU of Mymensing Medical College Hospital. Again, the police arrested three youths in connection with an attack on doctors and assistants on duty at the emergency department of Satkhira Sadar Hospital during the admission of their relative.
These are only a few notable incidents out of many other reported and unreported cases. Apart from the physical abuse, healthcare professionals also face verbal and psychological abuse but these go unreported.
According to the trends and statistics, violence against healthcare professionals is increasing day by day and we need active measures to protect doctors and other healthcare service professionals from such harassment, abasement, and assault. Especially during the pandemic, when they are risking their lives to fight against the COVID-19, such concerns are more pertinent than ever.
Our neighbouring country India has taken some significant steps in this regard. The President of India on April 22, 2020, promulgated the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 amending the century-old Epidemic Diseases Act 1897.
The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 is an outcome of the directions issued by the Supreme Court of India. After hearing a writ petition on the subject matter, the Court directed the Government of India to pass legislation ensuring the safety of health professionals and punishment for those attacking doctors or health personnel.
The main object of the newly enacted Ordinance is to ensure the protection of the healthcare professionals against acts of violence serving during an epidemic. Besides, provisions related to compensation for injury to healthcare professionals or for causing damage or loss to their property have also been inserted.
Under this new law, any harassment, attack, obstruction, or hindrances on the healthcare professionals in discharging duties has been termed as an act of violence. At the same time, 3 months minimum punishment has been assigned for anyone who commits an act of violence against healthcare personnel. The offenses under the new law are also cognisable and non-bailable.
At a time when the whole world is paying homage to the healthcare professionals for their effort and sacrifice, we cannot turn a blind eye to the acts of aggression against the same persons who are working day and night to save our lives. The healthcare professionals need to be protected against unprovoked violence from the public so that they can continue their work without any interruption and fear of their safety. A new law providing them safety against acts of violence can be the first step towards that goal.
The writer is a student of law at University of Rajshahi.