Stop silencing doctors

By Nitya Kashyap

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses with still no existing cure, the heaviest burden has been placed on medical doctors and nurses all over the world. They are the ones on the frontlines, sacrificing their own health and safety to treat and care for all the infected patients that come to them seeking help.

Yet for all their sacrifices, many of them are facing threats of suspension or unemployment for speaking out about what is truly going on behind the scenes, according to CNN.

In fact, one of the first healthcare workers to caution against the virus, opthamologist Dr. Li Wenliang, was reprimanded by Chinese officials for posting a warning in Dec. 2019 on social media outlining the dangers of the new virus, according to Time. Later, he too got infected by the coronavirus; according to Bloomberg News, he lost his battle on Feb. 7. 

Dr. Li Wenliang’s death sparked mass outrage in China. Chinese citizens took to the internet to express their anger and sorrow with hashtags like #LiWenliangHasPassedAway, according to Time

Shortly after his death, the Chinese government, in an effort to placate citizens’ anger, released a statement saying: “We express our deep condolences and regret. We pay tribute to him for standing on the frontline to fight against the epidemic and express sincere condolences to his family,” according to Bloomberg News

An apology isn’t going to bring him back to life. What the Chinese government did was completely wrong. Who knows what would have happened if instead of silencing Li, Chinese officials had actually listened to him and taken action sooner before the virus became a global health crisis? Perhaps this pandemic could have been contained or even prevented, and attempts to find a cure could have gotten much needed attention sooner. So many lives could have been saved. 

As China’s highest court said, according to the Washington Post: “If society had at the time believed those ‘rumors,’ and wore masks, used disinfectant and avoided going to the wildlife market as if there were a SARS outbreak, perhaps it would’ve meant we could better control the coronavirus today.” Meanwhile, hospitals everywhere are struggling to get ahold of personal protective equipment (PPE) for their staff, and doctors and nurses are being silenced for speaking out, with hashtags like #GetMePPE trending on Twitter.

As Glenn Cohen, faculty director of Harvard Law School’s bioethics center, puts it: “It is good and appropriate for health-care workers to be able to express their own fears and concerns, especially when expressing that might get them better protection.”

It’s downright infuriating to see healthcare workers who are putting their lives on the line for us be treated this way. Doctors and nurses are humans too — they too can get sick. And the fact that they are the ones constantly being exposed to the virus without sufficient protective gear means that they are at an extremely high risk of getting infected. If we don’t protect our nurses and doctors, who will care for us when we get sick? Who will sustain this barely running effort to keep the world alive? 

“It’s very important for physicians and other healthcare workers to be able to tell their stories,” Nisha Mehta, a radiologist in Charlotte, North Carolina, who runs two large online physician communities, said. “The general public still doesn’t have a good idea how serious things are on the front lines. We need to get those stories out … It’s almost a public health obligation for us to let these stories get out.”

Letting the public know about the situation could mean more help. According to Business Insider, people nationwide are contributing to efforts to collect PPE for medical staff on the frontlines.

Instead of attempting to quiet their employees, hospitals should be focusing their efforts entirely on keeping their patients and staff safe. Because if doctors and nurses aren’t safe, no one else will be either. Get our healthcare workers PPE. Stop silencing our heroes.

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