Argentina, with one of the most robust health systems in Latin America, is racing against time to boost its capacity to respond to the spread of Covid-19, whose peaks of contagion loom for May.
Apart from decreeing the compulsory isolation of its 44 million inhabitants on March 20, Argentina is concentrating on acquiring beds and intensive care kits.
“In the first half of May we are expecting the peak [of infection]. For now we have to have all the beds and [artificial] respirators we need,” President Alberto Fernández declared on Wednesday.
In parallel, field hospitals are going up and spaces are being fitted at top speed to attend to patients requiring moderate and intermediate care.
With five beds and four doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, Argentina is one of the best-equipped countries in a region averaging 2.2 per 1,000 in both categories.
There are 8,000 beds in intensive care wards but only 70 percent are operational with an artificial respirator, a monitor and the medical and nursing staff to cover them, Rosa Reina, the president of the Argentine Society of Intensive Therapy, told AFP.
“When facing pandemics on this scale, nothing is enough,” warned Diego Tipping, the Red Cross director in Argentina. “Preventive action is the most important. That usually takes the form of a vaccine but since there is none [for Covid-19], it’s the social norm of isolation,” Tipping stressed.
In the eyes of the specialists, the early declaration of quarantine should help Argentina.
“My impression is that they got it right,” considered the immunologist Jorge Geffner, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires and a CONICET (national scientific research council) researcher.
“With very few cases detected [56 with two deaths at the time] classes were suspended [on March 16], with total isolation declared almost at once [on March 20] when the infected had climbed to 128 with three deaths. I think we were much more timely than other countries in facing up to the problem,” he stressed.
Geffner nevertheless highlights the need to decentralise testing, a process already underway.
“A bigger diagnostic network should be articulated to make the isolation more efficient,” he said.
Tipping draws attention to the need to train more nurses for intensive therapy, night shifts and respiratory problems, a process already begun by the Red Cross.
“Argentina has a good number of doctors but needs to reinforce its nurses,” he pointed out.
He also recognises with concern the high costs of implements.
“An artificial respirator costs US$ 12,000 while a protective kit lasts four hours ... and we need many,” he affirmed.
Alicia Cámara, an academic at the University of Córdoba who has been studying coronavirus since 2013, has hopes that Argentina “can lower the curve a bit so that patients can be attended to.”
“The issue was addressed early and that’s a point in favour,” she told AFP.
Nevertheless, she pointed out that little is known about Covid-19, making the situation “unpredictable – what we say are hypotheses based on previous experiences like SARS.”
Reina points out that confinement will not make the infection go away “because the dissemination and contagion continue. But at least it will slow down the inflow into hospitals, giving us time to organise and attend them.”
Meanwhile, the government has started testing treatments also being tried out elsewhere in the world like administering the anti-malaria drug chloroquine. Health Minister Ginés González García has declared that until now the results have been “mildly positive.”
But Geffner assures that “this will end because a vaccine will be found. The whole world is working for one. There’s a horizon for a solution.”
by BY NINA NEGRON, AFP