Americas: States are failing to adequately protect rights of health workers

Amnesty International’s new report shows how weakly the governments are protecting workers rights.

As government representatives meet at the World Health Organization’s annual assembly to make crucial decisions regarding the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Amnesty International released a report today on the dire state of the rights of health workers in the Americas. The report urges countries in the region to prioritize and protect health workers’ rights during and beyond the pandemic and calls on the United States to take swift and decisive action to guarantee continued funding to the WHO.

The cost of curing: Health workers’ rights in the Americas during COVID-19 and beyond documents how those on the frontlines of the pandemic are often working in unsafe conditions with insufficient protective equipment and risk reprisals from authorities or employers if they speak out, while some have even suffered death threats and physical attacks. The report also calls on governments to ensure safe working conditions for cleaners and other support staff who are at risk due to their work in healthcare facilities and nursing homes.

“In these difficult times we owe a great debt of gratitude to the hospital and nursing home cleaners, doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, hospital janitors and epidemiologists for their tireless work to keep us safe. But saying thank you is not enough. Governments must take action to ensure their basic rights and safety are never put at such horrendous risk again,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

“The Americas is home to about half the people in the world who have tested positive for COVID-19, with more than 2 million confirmed cases. As Latin America suffers its deadliest weeks yet, it is vital that all countries come together to ensure health financing is not undermined at this crucial time. This pandemic has no borders and the United States must support a global solution by joining other countries in funding the World Health Organization to ensure its technical and expert capacity is deployed where most needed.”

Out of 21 in-depth interviews conducted by Amnesty International with health workers in United States, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Colombia and Paraguay, only two told Amnesty International that they felt they had adequate or almost adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The rest raised concerns about the lack of adequate PPE. They also raised concerns regarding sick leave, rest breaks and inadequate mental health support at work.