Doctors and nurses are fighting relentlessly, but they’re on the verge of exhaustion at the San Roque hospital in Córdoba, central Argentina. More than 15 months on since the arrival of Covid-19 in Argentina, the country now stands on the threshold of 100,000 deaths.
"These months have been very hard, both on a professional and personal level," admits Doctor Gabriela Nis, the hospital’s exhausted director.
Argentina, a country of 45 million inhabitants, has recorded more than 4.6 million infections and 98,000 deaths from coronavirus. Although the number of new cases has been decreasing in recent weeks, fatalities remain at close to 500 a day.
"We are going through this second wave with a slight decrease in cases, but daily we continue to incorporate patients with a moderate to severe condition," Nis explains.
In the corridors of the hospital, nurses bustle between tubes and syringes. Behind the white doors of the intensive care unit, critically ill patients struggle for their lives with every breath.
"The entire health team remains very committed to the situation [we face], but the days are exhausting and the circumstances are difficult," admits the doctor.
Argentina’s vaccination programme has accelerated in recent weeks. More than 18 million people have received a shot and another 4.5 million have completed their programme against Covid-19.
Restrictions on the movement of people remain in place and preventative and social distancing measures remain in place, and the quiet rhythm in the street contrasts with the frenzied atmosphere inside the hospital.
"Day to day, life in the hospital is complex and intense," says the director. "The number of patients in critical units is unparalleled compared to before. We have never had so many hospitalised in intensive care with respirators."
While some jurisdictions, such as Buenos Aires City, have reopened bars, cinemas and theatres, healthcare professionals in Argentina’s hospitals continue to be pushed to the limit.
"We tell society to continue taking care, this is not over," warns Nis.
Marcelo Oliva, the hospital’s deputy director, says that the pandemic has put healthcare personnel through "an experience that surpassed any previous training."
"The pandemic has pushed us to physical and psychological exhaustion, it has brought sadness to colleagues,” he says. “Seeing the aggressiveness that this pandemic has on the population is very sad.”
Carlos Canovas, Córdoba’s health undersecretary says "the province has about 1,700 patients hospitalised with Covid," but he warns it could worsen.
Canovas says that the health system has been strengthened, with the capacity of its critical care units quadrupled.
However, the official said the true Achilles heel is the physical and emotional exhaustion of healthcare personnel. This, added to concerns over the entry of the virus’ more contagious Delta strain, remains a serious problem.
"We are convinced that with the circulation of the new strain and a greater circulation of people, we will surely have a third peak of hospitalisation" in Argentina, he warned.
"We are prepared for that peak, the problem is the health personnel who are exhausted," he remarked.
"If people do not accompany us and we do not have the support of society regarding the measures, the ICU beds will not be sufficient," the official warned.
by Eduardo Ferrari, AFP