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RACGP President condemns coronavirus discrimination


Matt Woodley


27/02/2020 3:19:21 PM

Dr Harry Nespolon is ‘deeply troubled’ by instances of healthcare workers and patients being racially vilified over ill-founded fears.

Dr Harry Nespolon
‘Discrimination divides communities and we can’t allow it to happen – we need to come together to stop the spread of this virus,’ Dr Harry Nespolon said.

Reports have emerged of staff and patients of ‘Asian appearance’ being racially abused at Victorian hospitals, due to unfounded associations with coronavirus, including a doctor who was told to stay away from a child.
 
Dr Stuart Lewena, Director of Emergency at the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne said parents told a doctor that they were not comfortable with her treating their child due to the risk of coronavirus.
 
The doctor continued to treat the patient, but the situation required the intervention of a senior staff member, Dr Lewena said.
 
‘It was clear that message was sent on the basis of her race. We intervened to highlight to that family that wasn’t acceptable and we’ve been supporting that staff member,’ Dr Lewena said.
 
‘The message was given that we have complete confidence in that staff member and she should remain as one of the treating clinicians for that child.’
 
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon told newsGP he is ‘deeply troubled’ by reports of doctors being discriminated against based on their race due to ‘fear and paranoia around coronavirus’.
 
‘The spread of this virus has nothing to do with race and any suggestions otherwise are utter nonsense,’ he said.
 
‘While it is vital that we take COVID-19 seriously, there is no need for alarm or panic. Fearmongering and pointing fingers at certain groups in our community doesn’t help anyone and only causes harm.
 
‘The whole Australian community needs to work together to manage COVID-19. Discrimination divides communities and we can’t allow it to happen – we need to come together to stop the spread of this virus.’
 
After the incident at RCH had been flagged to all staff, Dr Lewena said three more staff members came forward to say they had similar experiences.
 
‘We want to use this as an opportunity to say that’s not acceptable in healthcare and it’s certainly not acceptable in our society,’ Dr Lewena said.
 
‘We need to be sensible and respectful in terms of how we go about dealing with [coronavirus].’
 
Earlier this week the World Health Organization (WHO) also cautioned against stigmatisation and ‘the rise of harmful stereotypes’ that ‘could potentially contribute to more severe health problems, ongoing transmission, and difficulties controlling infectious diseases during an epidemic’.
 
‘There are an increasing number of reports of public stigmatisation against people from areas affected by the epidemic,’ its daily situation report stated.
 
‘Unfortunately, this means that people are being labelled, stereotyped, separated, and/or experience loss of status and discrimination because of a potential negative affiliation with the disease.
 
‘Stigma can drive people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination, prevent people from seeking health care immediately, [and] discourage them from adopting healthy behaviours.
 
‘Such barriers could potentially contribute to more severe health problems, ongoing transmission, and difficulties controlling infectious diseases during an infectious disease outbreak.’
 
While preparations for a potential coronavirus pandemic have ramped up, the Federal Government has said the current risk of exposure in Australia remains low.
 
Outside of evacuees from the Diamond Princess, there have been no new cases recorded in Australia since 6 February.
 
With AAP
 
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
 
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SD   28/02/2020 8:33:07 AM

Blaming a medical condition on race is totally unacceptable. My feelings are for our Chineese origin colleagues and staff.