In the “Hospital Espana” in the city of Chinandega, a hotspot of Covid-19 contagion in Nicaragua, doctors assert that they feel “defenseless”. One such doctor offered his testimony to Confidencial about how Covid-19 is being combatted in this hospital, commenting: “We continue out of our love, our vocation for service and our love for the patients, and that keeps us in the struggle.”
The doctor, with many years of experience, maintains that in confronting the Covid-19 situation in his city he has: “a feeling of impotence, of frustration, of wanting to put all his strength, all his experience, all his knowledge, towards bettering the situation in the hospital and attending to the patients as should be done, to be able to save them and avoid becoming infected himself. But [there’s] an impenetrable barrier.”
This “barrier” according to the doctor is the “attitude” of the authorities in the Ministry of Health (Minsa) that “goes against all the scientific background that explained what was coming and how so many infections and deaths could be avoided.”
The “Hospital Espana” has become a focal point of Covid-19 in Chinandega, with almost 30 health workers there infected. Among them are surgeons, gynecologists, laboratory technicians, anesthesiologists, nurses, general doctors and internal medicine specialists, orthopedists, paramedics and stretcher bearers, and even the hospital’s director and assistant director, the head of the Intensive Care Unit and the person in charge of Nursing.
A recent report of the independent Covid-19 Citizens’ Observatory registered 1,590 suspected cases of the novel Coronavirus in Nicaragua and 308 related deaths. Managua is the department with the greatest number of suspected cases, with 789, followed by Masaya with 194; Chinandega with 119; Matagalpa with 111; Granada with 57; Esteli with 40; and Leon with 38, according to the report.
“They want us to continue working in their parallel universe, where everything is normal. It’s anyone’s worst nightmare, trying to combat the pandemic under conditions as difficult as these, where human life is worth nothing as long as the party ‘boondoggles’ can be covered up and they’re saved,” the doctor stated with sorrow.
In Masaya: “We can do no more”
“Massiel”, a doctor at the “Dr. Humberto Alvarado” hospital of Masaya, lamented the disease’s spread among her colleagues and their defenselessness facing the pandemic, which generates doubt about whether they should continue to work there, or leave the public health system.
“We have a number of colleagues whose family members, or they themselves, are ill. We’re in bad shape, very bad shape. What are we going to do? We can do no more. It’s our health and our family’s health, or the health of the rest. We just can’t,” the doctor bemoaned.
This Masaya hospital has set aside “a Covid area” with at least 40 beds, which are filled to overflowing, according to a medical source in the city. In addition, there are Intensive Care Unit beds destined for patients with this disease. Those, too are “occupied”.
Government praise, but no policies
Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega and his wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo have had the highest praise for the country’s health personnel, and in their public appearances they’ve repeated that they’re waging a battle against the pandemic. However, the government has done little or nothing to prepare or to protect them against Covid-19 contagion. Proof of this is the hundred or so doctors, nurses, nurse’s aides, stretcher bearers and cleaning personnel who have come down with the novel Coronavirus.
In his last speech to the nation this past May 18, Ortega emphasized: “on the frontlines of this battle [are] that army of doctors and nurses, health workers that every day… are caring for patients.”
The first lady has used similar terms: “We celebrate with admiration and respect the heroic labor of our nurses, who combat with us on the frontlines of battle, with hope and faith in God, to reach more triumphs for families and the Nicaraguan people, in these times of defense of life, health and strength.” These words were spoken by Murillo on the International Nurses’ Day last May 12.
The official discourse contrasts with the realities felt by the health personnel, such as the case of Dr. Manuel (not his real name) who works in Chinandega’s Hospital Espana. “We’re exposed to risk by the lethargy, the lack of prevention we were subjected to [by hospital authorities], and they continue doing so by not taking [safety] measures. To the few of us who are left, instead of protecting us, they’re sending us to the slaughterhouse as cannon fodder,” he stated bluntly.
Demanding personal protective measures
The Nicaraguan Medical Association, an independent group of doctors and affiliated personnel believe that about a hundred health workers have been infected with the Covid-19 virus. That number includes those who have recovered and those still sick with the disease.
Given this situation, more than 700 Nicaraguan doctors signed a pronouncement demanding that the government “supply personal protective equipment to the health personnel who are on the front lines of attention.”
The document highlights the fact that “protecting the lives of at-risk personnel is urgent”. This is the second pronouncement signed by the independent doctors and published to demand action from the Ortega regime.
The rate of contagion among health personnel “has lessened their capacity to attend to the population and has led to the early exhaustion of said resources. Many workers have found themselves forced to abandon their noble labor due to lack of appropriate conditions and in order to not continues exposing themselves to the risk of infection from the virus,” according to the pronouncement.
The statement also criticized the fact that “some of the doctors who signed the previous pronouncement have received indirect threats of being fired in some of the public institutions and via social media,” and demanded “an end to the persecution and harassment of the health professionals, while we ratify our commitment to accompany and offer our best effort to preserve the health of the Nicaraguan people.”