South Africa may have stepped on human rights in Covid-19 response, report finds

South Africa may have stepped on human rights in Covid-19 response, report findsHealth workers are screened. (GCIS)

A report by a human rights group finds that countries, including South Africa, may have violated the rights of vulnerable communities in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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A new report by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) found that South Africa may have violated the rights of women and health care workers in its response to the pandemic. South Africa and other countries need to ensure that Covid-19 regulations do not violate the rights of marginalised people.

The international human rights organisation assessed countries like India, Indonesia, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, South Africa and others. It focused on the unequal impact of the Covid-19 response on migrants, older persons, people with disabilities, women and girls, and the LGBTQIA community. The ICJ also zoomed in on the experiences of healthcare workers.

Women and girls left out

 The 138-page document found that states’ response to Covid-19 has at times interrupted or completely shut down health services for women. This includes access to contraception, maternal healthcare, HIV-related services and abortion. The pandemic also disrupted services for the survivors of gender-based violence.

The organisation also found that the implementation of “stay-at-home restrictions,” or lockdown led to an increase in violence against women and girls. The research pointed to a surge in reports of various forms of sexual and gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence. Due to states’ regulations, more women and girls were trapped in abusive environments. The report specifically cited an incident of a South African teenage girl raped at a temporary homeless camp erected as part of the country’s Covid-19 response.

The ICJ recommends that survivors of GBV are provided with timely treatment for sexually transmitted infections and abortion services as well as treatment for physical injuries and mental health. It also recommends governments find a way to provide adequate and easily accessible healthcare services to survivors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Health workers’ rights violated

The ICJ report found that governments all over the world were failing healthcare workers by not providing adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The organisation cites the World Health Organisation’s figure that at least 10% of global infections are those of healthcare workers. Insufficient PPE has left health workers vulnerable to contracting Covid-19 as they care for others.

In South Africa, corruption around PPE tenders has affected health workers, leaving them to contend with poor quality gear, or none at all. Health-e has previously reported that workers carrying out community screening had to work without PPE. Investigating bodies such as the Special Investigations Unit and Auditor General are looking into the corruption allegations. The report said states must protect whistle blowers in cases like these.

To remedy this violation of health workers’ rights, ICJ recommends governments ensure access to PPE without discrimination, including those doing community-based testing. The human rights organisation also recommends that governments do more to ensure that health workers are in protected environments. Workers must also have access to physical and mental health support throughout the pandemic. It is also important, the report said, that frontline health workers are properly remunerated. – Health-e News