Despite the fact that Argentina had been one of the countries that was best containing the expansion of the coronavirus, thanks to a strict quarantine that was imposed as soon as the pandemic arrived in March, the situation has changed dramatically in a few weeks.
In the last month, both infections and deaths from Covid-19 have doubled and, with more than 650,000 cases, today the country is the tenth in the world with the most infected and the 14th with the most deaths (about 14,000).
Argentina has even led the record daily infections and deaths of the planet in recent days.
But despite this increase, a reflection of the satiety and relaxation of many Argentines with what has been the longest quarantine in the world (which is still in force after six months), it has been achieved so far prevent the collapse of the healthcare system in the main urban centers.
This is attributed to the fact that the country continues to have a relatively low death rate per million inhabitants: about 300, half from countries such as the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador.
However, as the virus spreads outside of Buenos Aires and its surroundings – which previously concentrated more than 90% of cases and is now closer to 50% – some inland towns have been overwhelmed.
One of those places with high community transmission is Orán, the second most populated city in the northern province of Salta, which borders Bolivia.
There the local hospital, San Vicente de Paul, not only cares for 85,000 local inhabitants, but also receives another 160,000 people from surrounding areas.
The lack of beds, antivirals, oxygen and health personnel led to the rate of lethality will reach 10% of infected patients (when nationwide the figure is 2.1%).
The dramatic situation at the Oran hospital caught the attention of the local press after a doctor from the health center published a letter on Facebook denouncing what was lived there.
The young resident of family and general medicine Daniel gatica He said that he had decided to resign after being stoned by relatives of a patient who died of COVID.
“Today I say enough, today I feel like I failed“says the public letter he wrote on September 13.
“It was 12 days of pure stress, of just giving bad news,” he says. “I’m tired of having 3 deaths in an afternoon or 5 in a night and knowing that there is never a bed in therapy,” he says.
“How often I fell asleep standing with the PPE (personal protective equipment) on after seeing 32 or 40 or 64 patients of the watch, “he says.
Gatica reveals that in the hospital “for more than a month oxygen is a luxury“and that he is tired” of having to choose who to give a bed to and who to give a semi-empty oxygen tube. ”
“Everything for what? To receive this… a physical assault, “he says, referring to the people who attacked him with stones after learning of the death of a loved one.
“I can not anymore“, he confesses.
The letter questions the behavior of society, which it calls “hypocritical and unfair.”
“When you had to take care of yourself, it was all fuck and fuck (fun), and today they mourn their dead and demand attention “, criticizes the doctor.
“This pandemic brought out the worst of all,” he says.
But he also denounces the health authorities.
“Does anyone know what happens in that guard? (…) Do they know that we are 21 doctors of which 4 are residents and that today there are 7 working because the rest got sick?
“Today I felt abandoned by the system and especially by the Hospital “, affirms.
“Where did the investment in health, the applause, and the heroes? Why did my fellow friends and fellow guards they do not charge since June“, complaint.
Gatica’s letter had wide repercussions in the Argentine media and led the national authorities to send more aid to the hospital.
In conversation with BBC Mundo, the doctor said that this help has already made it possible to reduce the hospital’s occupancy rate from more than 100% to 65%.
“They opened a new building with about 40 beds with oxygen, which greatly alleviated the situation. It is a school in front of the hospital, which was part of the contingency plan, but the resources were missing,” he said.
After the diffusion of his letter, “overnight the oxygen arrived, the beds were made and appeared everything that had to appear“, he counted.
Gatica also revealed that after receiving a call from the governor of Salta and the provincial Minister of Health, he decided to reverse his resignation and today continue working at the hospital.
“This is just starting”
The young resident believes that the impact of his letter is due to the fact that it reflected what many other doctors in his country experience.
Far from the applause that medical personnel receive in other parts of the world, in Argentina many health experts have received injuries and even assaults. And not just inside the hospital.
Local media have covered stories of doctors and nurses who suffer discrimination in their own buildings and neighborhoods, and there were even some cases of professionals attacked or whose houses were burned for fear of contagion.
“We stop being the heroes and we become the weirdos“says Gatica.” We are the ones who do things wrong, the ones who let people die. We always notice that look of indifference and questioning, “he laments.
His description of what was happening in the hospital in Oran also echoed the experiences in other towns and cities in the interior that today are also overwhelmed by the coronavirus.
Do you feel that the long quarantine imposed by the government was an effective strategy to stop the spread of the virus?
“I think it was the best we could do at the time. For better or for worse it has already been done,” he reflects.
“But I was also afraid of what is happening: that we get tired in the middle of the game and lose by a landslide. Because this, at least in the interior of the country, is just beginning, “she warns.
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