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Foreign-born healthcare workers risk their lives in Western countries for victims of a virus that does not discriminate according to colour, religion

Apr 22,2020 - Last updated at Apr 22,2020

While watching satellite television coverage of the coronavirus pandemic it is impossible to ignore that many doctors and epidemiologists consulted by the US satellite CNN channel and ,to a lesser extent, the BBC are brown or black men and women. White men in suits and ties are on the tube, but they are not alone. As I have been switching between these two channels for coronavirus coverage, I will focus mainly on the situation of foreign medical staff in the US and Britain, where they have not been welcome.

CNN's star witness is Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon, medical reporter and author who is of Indian origin. Handsome, personable and well-informed, Gupta not only describes the scene in the US, but also gives advice on how the public should deal with the constant threat of contagion, starting with instructions on how to wash hands.

He and more than a score of other brown and black physicians, nurses and technicians, both US- and foreign-born, give an overall picture of the US medical profession that few citizens had ever seen before. These people are highly trained professionals, many of whom are among the "first responders" dealing with coronavirus patients. Some are citizens of Muslim-majority countries, hailing from countries Donald Trump sought to ban from entering the US. The corona pandemic has revealed that the medics he succeeded in keeping out would have boosted the number available to battle the virus at a time there is a severe shortage. Foreign doctors who trained outside the US but have not been licensed by US states cannot practice and face deportation.

Trump's exclusion policy has appealed to his base of supporters and fuelled racism across the US. The parade of brown and black foreign born or trained doctors and nurses on CNN should counter racism but could make his supporters all the more rabid because they are jealous of health professionals whose dedication to duty is celebrated by celebrities and lauded by a majority of citizens.

Among the doctors appearing on CNN are men and women of Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, African, Arab, Caribbean and Central American origin, who make up the 27 per cent of doctors of foreign background who practice in the US and 23 per cent in Canada. For Britain, the figure is 29 per cent, Australia 32 per cent, Norway 40 per cent and Ireland and New Zealand 42 per cent.

These figures show that foreign-born doctors, nurses and epidemiologists are heavily involved in the battle of Western countries against the coronavirus pandemic although they have faced discrimination because of their backgrounds, skin colour or faith. They have put their lives on the line to care for victims of a virus which does not discriminate according to the colour and religion.

In Britain, among the first 10 doctors to have lost their lives were four Muslims of colour. Adil Tayar, 64, a Sudanese and Alfa Saadu, 68, a Nigerian, returned from retirement to join the fight. Amged Hawrani, 55, another Sudanese, Habib Zaidi, 76, from Pakistan, Fayez Ayache, from Syria, also succumbed to the virus. It is tragic that racists in the British press refused to acknowledge their sacrifice while celebrating the thousands of health professionals and workers who staff the country's hospitals.

A twitter user observed, "The next time any of you think about or say 'bloody foreigners' or 'bloody Muslims' remember this. RIP." Rest in peace.

Last Friday, the Guardian published a long list of doctors and health workers who were killed by the virus. Their photographs tell a great deal about the white, black and brown men and women who have been engaged in the ongoing battle. It is ironic that they died after Britain formally exited the European Union following a Conservative campaign based on lies, and fuelled by racism and the desire by many Britons to exclude foreigners from Britain. And, it is doubly ironic that the party's prime mover in Brexit, now prime minister, Boris Johnson was attended by Jenny McGee, from New Zealand, and Louis Pitama, from Portugal, while he was struggling to survive the virus in St. Thomas hospital in London. After leaving hospital, he had to admit that the NHS had saved his life and to pay tribute to his nurses, who might be excluded by his anti-foreign policies. His remarks were a far cry from his party's systematic defunding of the health system and determination to reduce the number of foreigners employed in Britain. Without foreigners Britain could not cope with the still rising rate of infection.

Whether the foreigners who count for so many of the health professionals in the Western world will be given credit for their dedication and work remains to be seen. If they are, the US and Britain might, just might, be able to shed the discrimination practiced against these professionals for many years and integrate them into the societies of these two countries. If this happens, then the pandemic which has killed so many, may have a positive result for surviving foreign medical staff, who have contributed too much to the containment of the virus and the treatment of its victims.

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