‘We are collapsing’: the coronavirus strikes doctors in Spain and Italy
“We were sick of hearing it in the hospital, so it was only a matter of time before he contracted it,” said Nunez, a 32-year-old nurse who tested positive for the new coronavirus about a week ago.
Speaking on video call from home, Núñez said she is eager to recover, so she can ease overworked colleagues working with a growing wave of patients and fewer and fewer healthy nurses and doctors.
“The worst thing is that you have to stay home, worried about infecting your relatives, knowing that they need you at work,” he told The Associated Press.
The coronavirus is waging a war of attrition against healthcare workers around the world, but nowhere is it winning more battles right now than in Italy and Spain, where equipment and evidence of protection has been so scarce during weeks.
Spain’s universal health system is a source of national pride and often hailed as a reason for its citizens’ legendary longevity, but the outbreak is exposing its shortcomings, some of which are the result of years of budget cuts .
The country’s hospitals are moaning under the weight of the pandemic: videos and photos of two hospitals in the Spanish capital showed patients, many connected to oxygen tanks, crowded corridors and emergency rooms.
At the 12 de Octubre University Hospital, patients could be seen on the floor while waiting for a bed in recent days. The hospital says the patients have been housed elsewhere.
On Wednesday, the number of infected medical personnel was nearly 6,500 nationwide, health authorities said, representing 13.6% of the country’s 47,600 total cases and about 1% of the health system’s workforce. . At least three health workers have died.
“We are falling apart. We need more workers, ”said Lidia Perera, a nurse who works with Núñez at the Hospital de la Paz in Madrid, which has 1,000 beds.
This week, 11 of the 14 floors of the hospital are dedicated to caring for people with COVID-19, and there is still not enough space: patients with less severe cases of the disease are admitted to the hospital gym or a big tent outside.
“If you had told me three months ago that I would be working in these conditions in Spain, I would not have believed you,” Perera said, adding that La Paz staff are only being screened for the virus if they have symptoms. “If they did (regular testing), they could end up without any workers.”
The widespread infections among health workers reflect the universal difficulty of stopping the spread of the pandemic. But sick health workers do double damage: they add to the number of victims and at the same time hinder the ability to respond to the crisis. In addition to that, they increase the spectrum of hospitals becoming infection zones. The experience of Spain has been reflected elsewhere.
The director-general of the World Health Organization said this week that reports of large numbers of infections among health workers are “alarming.” “Even if we do everything else well, if we do not prioritize the protection of health workers, many people will die because the health worker who could have saved their lives is sick,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters. In Italy, where almost one … one-tenth of approximately 70,000 infections occur among medical workers, doctors and nurses have been pleading with the government daily to provide masks, gloves and protective glasses. “Please don’t leave us alone: help us help you,” wrote Dr. Francesca De Gennaro. An open letter, asking for equipment. De Gennaro runs a small private medical clinic in Bergamo, where about 90 out of 460 workers tested positive.
Italian media have reported at least 19 deaths among health professionals in the country, leading the world in deaths from coronavirus.
There was no immediate data available on infections among healthcare workers in the United States. Neither Iran nor France are revealing those figures.
But in China, where the outbreak began and where more than 80,000 people were infected in three months, more than 3,000 medical workers are believed to have become ill in late February, according to Dr. Liang Wannian, leader of a Chinese team. experts working with WHO to study the outbreak.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that go away in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia and death.
Spanish authorities have repeatedly said that protecting medical personnel is essential in their efforts to do what is known as “flattening the curve”: extend the period of time during which infections occur, in order to reduce the burden about intensive care units.
But health workers say that even simple things like gowns and masks are still scarce, as is evidence.
“Throughout the country, you see examples of workers inventing homemade suits using plastics,” said Dr. Olga Mediano, a lung specialist in Guadalajara, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) east of Madrid.
Unions blame budget cuts during the decade following the last global economic crisis for leaving Spanish hospitals ill-prepared. In response to criticism, authorities have promised to distribute hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 masks and rapid tests this week.