Fear in the Time of Cholera: Mexico and Covid-19

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

May 5, 2020 by Alan Iturriaga

The impact of the coronavirus has been felt far and wide. Only a handful of other modern historical events have impacted the majority of the world. The common theme amidst this pandemic is fear. We fear what we can not see. We fear what we can not understand. We fear what might hurt us. So what happens when an invisible, deadly microorganism clashes with a country plagued by misinformation and superstition?

For most Mexicans, the news cycle has been incredibly troubling during this last week– borderline scandalous. Not only have they had to deal with the daily bombardment of COVID related news, but they have had to witness some of the most disturbing moral falterings of Mexican society. Out of nowhere, reports of nurses being attacked started to pop up in local news around the nation. Soon after, national media picked the stories up, and it was only so long until international news outlets, such as the BBC and the New York Times, picked up the story. The chief nurse from the IMSS (the Mexican Social Security Institute) appeared on national television pleading that people stopped assaulting nurses and doctors. She stated “we never expected this to happen… the national guard has been deployed to the facilities of the IMSS”. The chief nurse continued to explain the situation by stating that “we have been witnesses to the latest news… the security within the facilities had to be improved.” The IMSS has 21 registered cases of attacks against IMSS personnel in over 10 states. But the real numbers could be higher. Nurses and health personnel have been physically attacked, thrown bleach, and assaulted. The chief nurse then addressed the press directly: “You are a crucial tool… help us stop this aggression.” The chief nurse struggled with her words and, taking long pauses to collect herself, held back tears as she told the press: “It hurts, it hurts to talk about what's happening to my colleagues… it hurts… we are also people, we also have families, and we are leaving everything behind… because we want to”.


It is only through understanding people’s fear it is that we have any hopes to understand what exactly is happening in Mexico. We could speculate, making an educated guess, that the people who have committed these acts are not evil. Maybe they know that, despite the heroic efforts from the IMSS staff, the institution is fairly weak and ineffective at providing adequate healthcare in all of the country. Maybe, they know that if they get COVID, they can not afford to go see a private practitioner or even take a break from their jobs. And yet, we need to understand that these actions are cruel and not remotely justified. It is extremely important to be mindful of what information we post online and spread throughout the world. And, it is our duty to call out misinformation when we see it. Injecting yourself with Clorox does not cure Covid-19, and neither does throwing bleach at health workers.

It takes a real effort to seek out information that is reputable. It takes a real effort to argue with a family member about the facts of Covid-19. It takes a real effort to go out of your way to call out misinformation.

But in the case of Mexico, it may just save someone.

Alan Iturriaga ('20) is a Senior Editor at SPR, he also runs the Muse Collective on Instagram.

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