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ARGENTINA | 04-09-2020 16:29

Medical professionals warn intensive care specialists are 'overloaded' by virus crisis

President of Argentine Society for Intensive Therapy warns that staffing levels in ICUs nationwide are "collapsed," with specialists thin on the ground and vulnerable to the virus.

The president of the Argentine Society for Intensive Therapy (SATI in its Spanish acronym), Rosa Reina, has warned staffing levels in Argentina's health system are "collapsed," with medical professionals thin on the ground amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview, the expert underlined the difficulties of covering vacancies caused by those who have to go into isolation due to coronavirus contagion.

Reina told Radio Continental on Tuesday that intensive care units were "at the brink of collapse," pointing out that intensive therapy specialists have been "chronically few" but now they are being infected with the virus themselves, thus requiring replacement. 

The remaining intensive therapy medical specialists are "overloaded" with no rest since March, continued Reina, warning: "It’s not taken into account that the health staff is exhausted, nobody thinks of that."

"Over 80 percent of intensive therapy beds are occupied (by the critically ill) with the addition in the last 15 or 20 days of several provinces and cities like Mar del Plata," said the SATI president, adding in this context: "A month ago we were talking of perhaps four or five cities where things were bad, now we’re talking about some 20 provinces."

Reina pointed out that at the moment, "there must be 20-30 percent of beds, depending on the area."

The SATI president assured that the ambulances cannot keep up and that the health system has been in bad shape for many years because of a "gradual disinvestment."

Quarantine view

Asked about the process of re-opening activities within the context of the coronavirus pandemic, Reina expressed agreement in some cases while insisting: "Certain restrictions must be maintained."

"The openings have to be well defined, you cannot have parties and you cannot be in parks full of people without face-masks who do not respect social distancing, two of the three basic things repeated all over the world along with washing your hands," she detailed.

Reina also expressed her worries that "nobody is looking at the health side," adding: "We are alone, we really feel that we’re alone."

"I think there’s a terrible problem of communication because with the idea of not alarming people, they’re not telling them the whole truth," said the doctor, who criticised "the interpretation that things are OK when they’re not."

Along those lines, she concluded: "There are provinces which are on the brink of collapse or have already collapsed like Jujuy or Río Negro and that’s the sort of thing we should be hearing."

'We need help'

Reina's views were echoed by the Medical Faculty of La Plata University, which wrote an open letter to society.

“It must be insisted that quarantine has saved thousands of lives in Argentina and the world. We health workers cannot defeat the pandemic alone – we need the help of all society. The collapse of the health system is close," it said.

"The resources for treating coronavirus patients are running out. Most hospitals and especially intensive therapy wards in this country have an extremely high percentage of their beds occupied. We feel that the doctors, nurses, kinesiologists and all the members of the health team are losing the battle against the pandemic.

 “In the dramatic context of one of the gravest sanitary crises in Argentine history, the medical staff and health system are on the brink of collapse and if this happens, the scenario of other countries could be repeated. Our greatest anxiety is the human resource. The situation with the health staff is that, unlike the beds and the respirators, they cannot be multiplied. Those in intensive care, in particular, who were already few before the pandemic, are now at the limit of their endurance, eroded by disease, physically and mentally exhausted by the continuous and intense work, attending increasingly more patients.

"Health personnel need more than one job to live and their salaries are very far from the remuneration for the enormous dedication and responsibility which their tasks deserve. Despite all these problems, they carry on with an irrevocable commitment.” 

Signed by Arnaldo Dubin and Judith Bernstein, the letter asks for individual responsibility from society to stay isolated, warning: “There seem to be two realities, one of the hospitals with their brutal and unequal struggle against disease and death, and the other of the streets and plazas with increasingly more people who want to enjoy themselves and reclaim their rights, people who feel fine for now and do not respect distance and protect themselves.” 



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