More than 3,000 healthcare workers are known to have died of the new coronavirus, according to Amnesty International, as it raises concerns about unsafe working conditions, low pay, long hours and violence against medical workers in some countries.
In a new report published on Monday, the United Kingdom-based rights group said Russia at 545 had the highest numbers of healthcare worker deaths from COVID-19.
Russia was followed closely by the UK (540, including 262 social care workers), and the United States (507).
But the global toll was much likely higher, Amnesty added, because of under-reporting.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic still accelerating around the world, we are urging governments to start taking health and essential workers’ lives seriously,” said Sanhita Ambast, Amnesty’s researcher and adviser on economic, social and cultural rights, in a statement.
“It is especially disturbing to see that some governments are punishing workers who voice their concerns about working conditions that may threaten their lives.”
Brazil, which has emerged as the country with the second-highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths after the US, has so far reported 351 healthcare worker deaths, while Mexico, another Latin American hotspot, has 248.
Doctors and nurses are on the front line of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed nearly 569,000 people and infected more than 12.9 million worldwide.
As the pandemic continues to spread, medical workers have often documented on social media the uphill battle they face while working long hours under difficult conditions.
Governments have also come under fire for failing to provide sufficient personal protective equipment – face masks, gowns, gloves and goggles – to their medical staff.
Amnesty said there was a shortage of PPE in nearly all of the 63 countries it surveyed.
With an increasing number of healthcare workers speaking out, protesting and launching strikes against the working conditions, the rights group also said there was a retaliatory pushback from the governments, including arrests, detentions, threats, dismissals and even “heavy-handed responses”.
Amnesty’s analysis found that some minority groups within healthcare and sanitation workers were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with higher levels of infections and deaths reported among them.
It cited examples of workers from Black and other ethnic minorities in the UK, India’s marginalised Dalit community and Finland’s Somali-speaking community.
“We call on all states affected by COVID-19 to carry out independent public reviews into their preparedness for and responses to the pandemic, with a view to better protecting human rights and lives in the event of a future mass disease outbreak,” said Amnesty’s Ambast.