SEOUL, June 17 (Korea Bizwire) – As news of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) dominates the country, medical staff fighting against the deadly virus are suffering from discrimination from their neighbors who are afraid of being infected by them.
There is a widespread trend of people treating medical staff as possible MERS patients or ostracizing them in their communities. The doctors and nurses caring for patients suffering from the virus are now fighting social discrimination.
Recently, a nurse at a Daejeon hospital with a confirmed MERS patient shed tears after receiving a phone call. The mother of one of her son’s classmates told her not to send her son to school as other classmates were worried about catching the virus.
“I can understand their anxiety and worry over MERS, but I couldn’t help feeling that the situation is unjust. Although I’m not a suspected MERS patient, society thinks we, medical staff, are all possible carriers of the virus,” the nurse said.
Other similar incidents have been reported elsewhere. Medical workers at a Busan hospital face the same unfair bullying from their neighbors. Some even called the hospital asking for their addresses and other personal information.
Even acquaintances discriminate against healthcare providers. Recently, a doctor at a large hospital in Gwangju could not join a gathering of his close friends. One of his friends called him and asked him to stay home.
In the case of a MERS care center in Gyeonggi Province, it should have rented several rooms for nurses and doctors to stay together, as their family members are unfairly treated at their workplaces and schools.
As more medical staff become infected with the virus, the cold attitude towards them is getting even worse. As of June 17, among 162 patients diagnosed with the disease, 26 are medical staff, accounting for 16 percent.
Those in medical circles hope that this kind of social prejudice quickly dissipates. Kang Cheol-gu, a public healthcare worker in Daejeon, said, “Bullying or discrimination against medical staff fighting against MERS should not be happening. They are now fulfilling their duties at risk of infection and what they need is a warm and encouraging word from their neighbors.”
A medical doctor who treated a MERS patient said, “No doctor will run away from MERS patients. They can be self-quarantined when needed, but society should not discriminate against them in advance.”
By John Choi (firstname.lastname@example.org)