[News] Humanity Protests Against the Crimes of Death

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Thu Jul 30 11:00:20 EDT 2020


https://www.thetricontinental.org/newsletterissue/31-healthcare-workers/
Humanity
Protests Against the Crimes of Death: The Thirty-First Newsletter (2020).
July 30, 2020 - Vijay Prashad
------------------------------

हिन्दी
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/hi/newsletterissue/newoozletter-31-swasthyakarmiyon/>

[image: Frew Kebede (Ethiopia), Shimutt, 2018.]

Frew Kebede (Ethiopia), *Shimutt*, 2018.

Dear Friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
<http://thetricontinental.org/>.

On 23 July, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros
Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that the world now has 15 million people
infected by COVID-19. ‘The pandemic has disrupted the lives of billions of
people. Many have been at home for months’, he said
<https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---23-july-2020>.
The trauma of the Great Lockdown is taking a serious psycho-social toll.
‘It’s completely understandable that people want to get on with their
lives’, Dr. Ghebreyesus said. ‘But we will not go back to the “old normal”.
The pandemic has already changed the way we live our lives. Part of
adjusting to the “new normal” is finding ways to live our lives safely’.

[image: George Lilanga (Tanzania), Ukifka Mjini Kila Mtu Na Lake, 1970s.]

George Lilanga (Tanzania), *Ukifka Mjini Kila Mtu Na Lake*, 1970s.

At a press conference on 23 July, in Brazzaville (Republic of Congo), Dr.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, said
<https://www.afro.who.int/news/over-10-000-health-workers-africa-infected-covid-19>
that ‘The growth we are seeing in COVID-19 cases in Africa is placing an
ever-greater strain on health services across the continent’. There are now
about 10,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases amongst healthcare workers in Africa.
‘This has very real consequences for the individuals who work in [the
healthcare sector]’, Dr. Moeti said. ‘One infection among health workers is
one too many. Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are our
mothers, brothers, and sisters. They are helping to save lives endangered
by COVID-19. We must make sure that they have the equipment, skills, and
information they need to keep themselves, their patients, and colleagues
safe’. Matters are as bad – or worse – elsewhere; in late May, two
organisations of Brazilian nurses (the Federal Council of Nursing [COFEN]
and the International Council of Nurses [ICN]) announced
<https://g1.globo.com/bemestar/coronavirus/noticia/2020/05/27/brasil-e-o-pais-com-mais-mortes-de-enfermeiros-por-covid-19-no-mundo-dizem-entidades.ghtml>
that Brazil had the highest numbers of nurses – mostly women
<https://www.jornaldocomercio.com/_conteudo/geral/2020/05/738502-levantamento-aponta-morte-de-98-profissionais-de-enfermagem-por-covid-19-em-um-mes.html>
– die from COVID-19.

Dr. Moeti’s heartfelt comments reminded me of our dossier no. 29
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/dossier-29-healthcare/> (June 2020), *Health
is a Political Choice*. Our researchers spoke with healthcare workers in
Argentina, Brazil, India, and South Africa to learn about the conditions of
their work and their concerns about how their governments have been
managing the pandemic. ‘Even before we got into COVID-19’, said Lerato
Madumo, the President of the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union in South
Africa, ‘our health system was already ailing. At the top of the list was
the shortage of nurses. We went into this pandemic with a skeleton nursing
staff’. Each of the people we spoke to told us that their public healthcare
systems had been weakened by austerity budgets, often enforced by wealthy
bondholders and the International Monetary Fund, who demanded the debt
service payments and did not care that this money came out of the public
health, public education, and public welfare budgets. It is a good reason
to join the call to cancel
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/newsletterissue/30-debt/> the debt of
the developing world.

[image: Henar Diez Villahoz (Spain), Quien sostiene la vida (Those who
sustain life), 2020.]

Henar Diez Villahoz (Spain), Quien sostiene la vida (Those who sustain
life), 2020.

In April, the WHO – along with the International Council of Nurses and
Nursing Now – released a report
<https://www.nursingnow.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/WHO-SoWN-English-2020-Report-0402-WEB-LOW-RES.pdf>
called ‘State of the World’s Nursing 2020’. The key number in this report
is that the world has a deficit of nearly six million nurses. Stunningly,
89% of the shortage is concentrated in the Global South, ‘where the growth
in the number of nurses is barely keeping pace with population growth’. It
is worth pointing out that pressure
<https://www.elibrary.imf.org/view/IMF071/24306-9781484339749/24306-9781484339749/ch13.xml?language=en&redirect=true>
by the International Monetary Fund to keep public sector wages low in
exchange for debt relief results in low wages for nurses, many of whom then
migrate <https://www.oecd.org/migration/mig/44783473.pdf> to higher wage
countries, creating what Zuhal Yeşilyurt Gündüz calls a ‘care drain’
<https://monthlyreview.org/2013/12/01/the-feminization-of-migration/>.

When we talk of nurses, we are largely talking of women, and here we need
to focus on disregard and discrimination. A WHO paper
<https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/311314/WHO-HIS-HWF-Gender-WP1-2019.1-eng.pdf>
from March 2019 has a sentence that should give pause to all the
sanctimonious rhetoric about gender equality: ‘Women represent around 70%
of the health workforce, but earn on average 28% less than men’. At
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, under the leadership of our
Deputy Director Renata Porto Bugni, we are conducting a close study of the
gendered impact of the CoronaShock, which will elaborate on such facts.
This report will be out in the coming months.

International Council of Nurses, *I am a nurse*, 2020

Based on the interviews with health workers conducted by our team for *Health
is a Political Choice*
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/dossier-29-healthcare/>, our dossier
developed a sixteen-point agenda to shift the priority of healthcare
systems in capitalist countries. Six of them bear special focus:

   1. Substantially increase COVID-19 testing for health workers.
   2. Protect workers by providing high quality PPE and masks, as well as
   other necessary equipment. Frontline workers must be adequately trained to
   confront the disease.
   3. Immediately disburse funds to set up training schools for health
   workers, including doctors, nurses, and public health workers.
   4. Increase the salaries of health workers and pay them on a frequent
   and regular basis.
   5. Acknowledge that workers have the right to withdraw their labour if
   they decide that to work entails an imminent risk to their health or life
   (this is based on the International Labour Organisation Conventions 155 and
   187).
   6. Guarantee the inclusion of health workers’ unions on committees that
   formulate policies for the health sector in general and for the COVID-19
   crisis in particular, and that they have a voice in helping to determine
   such policies.

These are elementary demands, policies that any sensitive person would
agree to after having seen the catastrophe inflicted upon the populations
in the capitalist states during this pandemic. Many of these reappear in
our Ten-Point Agenda for the Global South After COVID-19. We should add to
this list:

   1. Pressure the IMF and the US Treasury Department to no longer dictate
   the levels of public sector wages as a condition of loans, so that
   governments in the Global South can compensate their healthcare workers
   adequately

[image: Issam El-Said (Iraq), Medinat al-Hub [City of Love], (1963).]

Issam El-Said (Iraq), *Medinat al-Hub [City of Love],* (1963).

In September 1947, a doctor in Faqus (in northern Egypt) saw two patients
who showed signs of food poisoning; the next day, two more patients
arrived, and he advised them to go to the general hospital. The health
officer of Al Qarnah (in middle Egypt) ‘was rather perplexed about the
reporting of ten deaths during that day’, as a WHO report
<https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/266082/PMC2553924.pdf>
later noted. Egypt had experienced six previous cholera pandemics (1817,
1831, 1846, 1863, 1883, and 1902), and yet this time the medical officers
were unsure what was causing the illness. Cholera spread across the country
before the ‘army of doctors, sanitary officials, nursing staff and
disinfectors’ could break the chain of infection; 10,277 people died during
this outbreak. Rumours that cholera was brought to Egypt by British
soldiers garrisoned in the country during World War II were dismissed by
the British authorities.

[image: Nazik Al-Malaika]

In Iraq, Nazik al-Malaika (1923-2007) heard reports of the cholera outbreak
on the radio. Her distress became a beautiful poem, *Cholera* (translated
<https://blogs.transparent.com/arabic/nazik-al-malaika-cholera/> here by
Husain Haddawy).

*It is night.*
*Listen to the echoing wails*
*rising above the silence in the dark.*

…

*the agonized, overflowing grief*
*clashing with the wails.*
*In every heart there is fire,*
*in every silent hut, sorrow,*
*and everywhere, a soul crying in the dark.*

*It is night.*
*Listen to the footsteps of the passerby,*
*in the silence of the dawn.*
*Listen, look at the mourning processions,*
*ten, twenty, no… countless.*

*…*

*Everywhere lies a corpse, mourned*
*without a eulogy or a moment of silence.*

*…*

*Humanity protests against the crimes of death.*

*…*

*Cholera is the vengeance of death.*

*…*

*Even the gravedigger has succumbed,*
*the muezzin is dead,*
*and who will eulogize the dead?*

*…*

*O Egypt, my heart is torn by the ravages of death.*

Even the gravedigger has succumbed to the disease, but so too have the
health workers. Our hearts are torn by the ravages of death, by the deep
distress of the coronavirus pandemic, the hunger pandemic, the pandemic
against hope. Yet, even in the gloom, the poet reminds us that ‘humanity
protests against the crimes of death’.

Warmly, Vijay.
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