Morocco: Health workers attacked as patients place blame for poor care

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Attacks on medical staff in Moroccan public hospitals are on the rise, often carried out by patients and their relatives. However, a recent example involved an attack by a criminal gang on the infant vaccination room at Mota Allah Urban Health Centre in Marrakech on 4 November 2021, which provoked outrage and anxiety across Morocco.

This has prompted renewed warnings from health organisations and unions that conditions across the sector are deteriorating. They say the incident raises big questions as to whether the Ministry of Health is shouldering its responsibilities in addressing the major issues facing the sector and accuse it of effectively abandoning health workers to an open confrontation with Moroccan citizens.

Understaffed and underequipped

The head of the Independent Syndicate of Public Sector Doctors, Muntazir Alawi, stated that the reasons for rising attacks on health sector staff goes back to "the chaos governing the health sector in Morocco."

He continues: "There is also massive overcrowding in hospitals and clinics, all of these are factors preventing an effective response to patients' needs. This is leading to clashes and even assaults by a number of patients and their relatives, who hold medical staff responsible for the worsening medical services." 

"The incident raises big questions over whether the Ministry of Health is shouldering its responsibilities in addressing the major issues facing the health sector and accuse it of effectively leaving health sector workers in an open confrontation with Moroccan citizens"

Dangerous working conditions

Alawi explained to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, that "working conditions for doctors and nurses are appalling. Additionally, they are at the frontline because of the nature of their work. Huge staff shortages as well as the lack of medical equipment, supplies, and some medicines, and the long working hours all mean they are working in difficult and dangerous conditions.

"Healthcare staff, as well as citizens, are victims of the state of the health sector. Attacks on staff are taking different forms; some are clearly sparked by the sense of grievance and discontent against the healthcare sector, because citizens are holding the doctor in front of them, who they have direct contact with, wholly responsible. However, that medical staff are suffering physical and mental aggression from patients should be regarded as the failure of the health sector."

Working conditions for doctors and nurses are appalling [FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images]

He adds: "These assaults, which can be violent, must be deterred. Likewise, the ministry responsible for the health sector must meet its responsibilities and protect the rights of doctors, nurses and health technicians who are being demeaned and abused. Strict and effective measures must be taken against anyone who attacks healthcare workers while they are doing their jobs, by implementing the necessary measures to prosecute perpetrators in courts."

A wave of attacks

In recent months, public hospitals have witnessed repeated attacks against healthcare personnel, the most prominent of which was the brutal attack on nurse Eman Sufi on 22 October, during her shift at the Covid-19 isolation unit in Hassan II Hospital in Dakhla (located in the Dakhla-Oued Ed-Dahab region) when the son of one Covid patient attacked her, slamming her head against a wall before knocking her to the ground and kicking her repeatedly.

Sufi was not the only worker in the sector who was physically attacked recently – there are many similar stories from public hospitals where patients or their relatives have lashed out at staff. On 2 November, a midwife, administrative staff and cleaners at the regional hospital of Midelt (central Morocco) were attacked by relatives of a pregnant woman in the delivery room.

"The attacks on health workers are in essence an extra tax these staff are being forced to pay out of their dignity and physical wellbeing in exchange for the chronic shortages the health system suffers from in Morocco"

Fatima Al-Zahra Blin, coordinator of the media and communication committee of the Movement of Nurses and Healthcare Technicians (MITSAM), said: "The attacks on health workers are in essence an extra tax these staff are being forced to pay out of their dignity and physical wellbeing in exchange for the chronic shortages the health system suffers from in Morocco." She pointed out that citizens often end up venting their rage at doctors and nurses for conditions they are not responsible for.

Blin adds: "Assaults against medical staff have become normal in the eyes of the public, because health officials have not dealt with the aggressors and made sure they are prosecuted. Although these staff members are working with every ounce of effort, and are making huge sacrifices to contribute to the struggle against Covid-19, this has not stopped them from being left facing physical and verbal attacks whilst carrying out their professional work."

Ministry of Health response

A Moroccan Ministry of Health official (who did not wish to reveal his name), said: "The ministry is making every effort to defend the dignity of health workers who are performing a noble, humanitarian service and working round the clock to ensure the public sector remains functioning despite their low numbers and tough conditions."

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He added: "Last month, the Minister of Health and Social Protection, Khalid Aït Taleb called officials of the various ministry departments to demand that the judicial follow-up of assault cases against the ministry's employees be kick-started and said this must be done in parallel to strengthening accompanying preventive measures.

"The attacks medical staff are being subjected, both verbal abuse and physical harm, are in breach of the law and are unjustifiable and unacceptable, no matter their motives. Likewise, they violate the respect and estimation that should be given to healthcare professionals and the acknowledgment of the role they have been entrusted with and the huge sacrifices they are making".

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He asserts that the ministry is pledging "zero tolerance of attacks and that it will not leave employees alone to face attackers, and it considers the assaults as an attack on the health service itself and damaging to it."

Article 19 of the public service law in Morocco states that ministries are responsible for providing protection to their employees while they are carrying out their work.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition with additional reporting. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko   

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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This article is part of a series focusing on MENA health crises: A collection of articles looking at public health-related issues across the MENA region, as ill-prepared health systems continue to struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic in a region wracked by instability and war.

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