Nicaraguan government squeezing doctors; talk of "health terrorism"

Some countries have lured doctors from retirement, forced medical students to fight for their rights, and bolstered exhausted medical personnel by COVID-19 cases. But in Nicaragua, doctors have been threatened, harassed and even forced into exile to question the government's handling of the pandemic.

Nicaraguan government squeezing doctors; talk of "health terrorism"

Rosario Murillo is the Vice President and first lady. She has accused doctors and others of "health terrorist" and spreading "false news and outlooks" by reporting that COVID-19 was far more widespread than official acknowledges.

International health organizations have warned of rising infections in Nicaragua, and independent Nicaraguan doctors are calling for a voluntary quarantine. This would slow down the spread of the coronavirus delta variant. The government has stated that it is not okay to disagree with the line of President Daniel Ortega as he seeks a fourth term.

Groups of doctors have reported higher rates than the government for virus infections and deaths due to COVID-19, a disease that can be caused from the coronavirus. They also criticize the Sandinista government's promotion of mass gatherings.

After months of harassment, threats and threats, Dr. Leonel Arguello fled Nicaragua to be with his family.

Arguello keeps a list of medical professionals who have died from COVID-19, and he accuses government officials of creating a false sense security that has led to deaths.

The doctor stated that "We aren't working to remove a Government" from an unidentified country. "We are not trying to be an opposition party. We work as if we were working with any patient to find a way to save his or her life.

Arguello worked in the Health Ministry under the Sandinista government. He claimed he had not received death threats. However, he said he felt a shift when Murillo made public statements about doctors inventing things. This was when he said that he sensed a change and the government would no longer tolerate it.

He said, "My role of a health educator was going be lost if I was imprisoned or silenced."

Murillo made comments directed at Arguello, and other exile doctors, saying this month that "to perpetrate terrorism with health topic is a sacrilege. It is a crime."

Questions about the alleged intimidation against doctors were sent to Murillo. He wrote a thank-you note, but did not provide any additional comments.

Although it is unclear how many doctors fled the country during the pandemics, The Associated Press identified at most five who did so because of government intimidation. Arguello stated, "I believe it's a decision that you make when your physical safety is threatened."

Murillo mentioned fake doctors who made "false predictions" and "false surveys" about the pandemic in July. She stated on national television that "everything in life has a price" and that if we do harm, it will be for us. We shouldn't risk the consequences.

Jose Luis Borgen, a urologist, was summoned to the Health Ministry at that point and told not to provide pandemic statistics other than the official ones. He claimed he knew of at least a dozen doctors who were called and told the exact same thing.

Borgen stated that they accuse him of spreading false information and creating fear among the people. A doctor was informed that his medical license could be revoked, and that he could face charges for spreading false information. Borgen stated that he believes the doctor is not in Nicaragua.

Borgen was also summoned by the Attorney General's Office to discuss treatment he had provided an opposition politician who was being sought by authorities. Borgen said that he considered it an attempt to intimidate.

Borgen stated, "It all links." "When the vice president speaks, all the institutions follow his lead."

Borgen, who has also been affected by COVID-19 himself, stated that he didn't know of any doctors who had lost their licenses or been charged with a crime but that many had fled the country in fear.

Already, the government was willing to exert political pressure on health workers. In April 2018, large street protests broke out against a government overhaul of the social security system. The government instructed public health workers not to treat the injured protesters.

Those who disobeyed, around 400 according to Arguello, were fired. Others fled to exile during that time.

During the pandemic, the pressure has not subsided.

Since March 2020, when Nicaragua was first infected by coronaviruses, it was considered taboo to speak of the pandemic. Because administrators prohibited hospital staff from wearing surgical masks, it became a political statement. They claimed that masks could cause nervousness in patients.

Health workers and relatives reported that COVID-19 victims were secretly buried by staff dressed in white protective suits, under the cover of darkness. La Prensa, Nicaragua’s main newspaper reported that in July, a Managua funeral house had conducted 14 such burials with patients from three capital hospitals.

The pandemic has also affected Nicaragua's health workers. Arguello says that at least 160 doctors have been killed by COVID-19. These statistics are not available to the public. Borgen stated Friday that 88 of the people who died were doctors.

Chinandega, a northwestern city, has a doctor who said that doctors cannot obtain coronavirus testing outside of government hospitals. Even those are limited.

The doctor stated that they have it under control and that if someone tests positive, they will handle it discreetly. They want to make it appear that the virus is under control.

She said that her region was experiencing a high number of COVID-19 patients, the local hospital ward for the condition was full, and that a coworker who had been caring for patients all night died from the disease one month ago. Fearing reprisals, she too spoke under anonymity.

In June, Dr. Eddy Valverde fled to exile. This was weeks after the government began detaining prominent opposition leaders. For speaking out publicly about the government's handling the pandemic, he had been subject to threats and attacks for months. His medical license should be revoked by journalists from government agencies.

Independent doctors are the only reliable source of data on the pandemic, he said. He is also a member the Nicaraguan Medical Unit. It was created by doctors who were fired from public hospitals in 2018.

After months of harassment by police, the organization that provided free consultations for COVID-19 patients was forced to close its doors in July.

Citizen Observatory, a group of independent doctors and activists, has reported more COVID-19 deaths than the official government number. It is 20 times higher than the official number.

For the past nine months, one COVID-19-related death has been reported by government officials each week.

In the face of "the pandemic peak" and "the collapse of the health care system," the Observatory asked Nicaraguans for a voluntary quarantine in September.

In April, Nicaragua began limited vaccinations. The nation of 6.5 million people has vaccinated over 520,000 people older than 45. However, it was not clear if these individuals had received two doses or one. Thursday's announcement by the president was that the government would start vaccinating those over 30 in the next month.

The government did not impose any restrictions to stop the spread of the virus. Instead, it encouraged large-scale gatherings and continued life as usual despite warnings by local doctors and the Pan American Health Organization.

Arguello believes that the government's efforts to silence him and other health workers is an attempt to create a false sense security for the public.

Arguello stated that those who spoke out were fired, and that signal was for everyone to remain silent in the public sector.

Arguello stated that leaving Nicaragua was difficult. Most doctors cannot immediately resume their practice in another country. Arguello continues to treat remote 15 patients on oxygen at home.

Arguello stated that the apparent security sold by Arguello is a false sense to safety and prevents people from taking necessary steps to safeguard themselves.

Arguello stated, "We are getting worse each day, the number is rising." "The hospitals are full, and everyone knows someone with COVID.