JOHANNESBURG — In South Africa, the job of a paramedic can be perilous.
Uniformed paramedics marched and ambulance lights flashed during a protest this week against attacks on the emergency responders, who are sometimes targeted by criminals when they rush to treat patients in poor communities, particularly at night.
Paramedics in Western Cape province have been robbed and in a few cases assaulted 42 times so far this year, an increase of roughly 30 percent over the same period in 2015, said spokesman Robert Daniels.
Daniels said thieves have robbed paramedics of wallets, cell phones and other belongings while patients are in their vehicles. One paramedic was stabbed with a broken bottle, he said.
Such attacks have occurred elsewhere in South Africa, which has a high rate of violent crime.
ER24, a paramedic company, said its crews have been attacked about 15 times in the past two years throughout the country, and that the rate of such incidents was increasing.
Paramedics “are attacked, robbed, hijacked, stabbed, assaulted and even barricaded while attending to patients in need of medical assistance,” said Peter van der Spuy, an ER24 manager. In some cases, criminals have posed as patients, he said.
The protest on Wednesday was held in Philippi, a poor area of Cape Town where some attacks have occurred.
Western Cape paramedics are liaising with police, but getting an escort into a potentially dangerous area can sometimes take several hours.
“The ambulance is nearby, but they can’t get to the patient because of the safety issue” in some cases, Daniels said.
He said paramedics are appealing to community leaders to spread the message that an attack on paramedics “is essentially an attack on your own community.”
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