JOHANNESBURG (AP) — 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. One demonstrator's sign read: "Keep our medics safe!!"
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, who attended the protest Wednesday, 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.
Attacks on paramedics have occurred elsewhere in South Africa, which has a high rate of violent crime. Earlier this year, authorities in Johannesburg said a gunman robbed three municipal paramedics who were treating a patient in an ambulance.
Wednesday's demonstration was held in Philippi, a poor area of Cape Town where some attacks have occurred. One demonstrator said she was learning boxing for self-defense, while another said she often checks her vehicle mirrors because assailants usually approach a parked ambulance from behind, according to South African media.
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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