State threats against the Nicaraguan medical profession -which has warned about the increase in Covid-19 cases-, has led to exile and self-censorship of some healthcare workers, who fear arrest or having their licenses suspended.
“We know of many doctors who left the country or stopped practicing their profession in order not to be the victims of aggression. This is a highly serious escalation because here you can no longer even defend life,” regrets Vilma Nunez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), one of the few remaining human rights spaces in the country.
Throughout the pandemic, the associations of independent doctors and the Covid-19 Citizen Observatory, are the only ones who have warned about the epidemic peaks. However, in the last two weeks, Vice President and First Lady, Rosario Murillo, has launched virulent attacks against health workers.
“You pay for everything in life and if we do harm, harm will reach us. Let us not expose ourselves to receive the consequences of our actions (…) stop causing harm to the people, families, terrorized by phony doctors, with false prognosis, with false studies, with fake news,” Murillo threatened in her daily monologues.
These threats were propagated on social networks by supporters of the regime, who have already suggested the suspension of the medical license of some health workers. This, added to the recent repressive escalation in which 26 opponents were arrested, triggered self-censorship and the exile of health workers.
“The increase in cases is real. Every day we receive people and entire families with symptoms of Covid-19; but many of us prefer not to give statements for our own safety,” explained to Confidencial a medical source that requested anonymity.
Threats seek to hide the impact of Covid-19
Faced with this hostile scenario, the Nicaraguan Medical Unit temporarily closed its offices, where it provided care to relatives of political prisoners and citizens with symptoms of Covid-19 who feared to attend public health facilities.
The Citizens’ Observatory, which conducts an independent monitoring on infections and suspicious deaths of Covid-19, admitted a loss in data collection capacity due to threats.
“Our networks have been affected by the perception of uncertainty and insecurity experienced by Nicaraguan society. Although our sole objective is to contribute to the protection of the population against the virus, our demands for information on the real behavior of the pandemic may be embarrassing [for the government],” the members of this team point out.
The information revealed by these independent sources has been key to knowing the real progress of the pandemic. They have also served as a reference for international organizations because the official government information is scarce and does not allow epidemiological analysis, explained PAHO.
The Ortega Government established, since a year ago, agreements with multilateral organization to disclose information on the processed Covid-19 tests, the number of these that tested negative and positive, the age, sex and origin of confirmed cases, the accumulate of infections and deaths, and the fatality rate. However, it has not complied.
“They are putting the right to life at risk”
By increasing secrecy about the spread of the pandemic, the Government violates several fundamental rights for the population, Nuñez comments, mainly the right to health and life.
“It could be said that they are violating the right to life by omission, because they are leading people to their death, because they do not have the possibilities of providing adequate care and in the same way they prevent doctors from doing so. Likewise, they prevent the media from reporting on the risks, the outbreaks, the spread of the virus and that is part of the defense of the right to life,” she explains.
Nuñez further noted that the right of media outlets to access information and the right of Nicaraguans to be informed about the progress of the pandemic are violated. Despite the new surge of Covid-19, neither the Ministry of Health (MINSA) nor the Government have issued a health alert, rather Murillo redirected the responsibility of caring for the virus to the population.
“To have the medical profession frightened, I have never seen that before. Besides, they are also deceiving the international system. They are not telling them the truth, they are not letting them in. They only like to receive support,” regrets Nunez.
Parallel to this increase in censorship, infections and fatalities in health personnel due to Covid-19 increase. According to data from the Citizen Observatory, the number of deaths tripled. In April there were a total of four deaths in the profession that included the death of two doctors. By June 2021, there were eight deaths, of which six were doctors. While, in July, 8 health workers died with symptoms of Covid-19 and this week two more and 33 new infections were reported.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times