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Battling COVID-19 proving lethal for the doctor’s corps in Peru

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The perimeter of a neon yellow building facing the Pacific, a two-story black ribbon protecting most of the façade and a Peruvian flag at a half-staff by the entrance are black-and-white photographs of hundreds of men and women, some in their 30s and some much older.

The temporary monument is for fallen “pandemic soldiers,” physicians who have died and unravelled the public health care system since the coronavirus ravaged this South American nation last year.

Like other nations around the world, our nation is not ready for this pandemic. Moreover, emerging countries like ours are the most affected,’ said Dr. Gerardo Campos, a spokesman for Peru’s Medical College.

The college serves doctors and its headquarters are the memorial site, where a cleaning worker recently dusted off each portrait and put flowers in front of them wearing a face mask.

“Peru has been deeply affected, and those on the front line are the doctors within population groups, the first-line soldiers who have battled COVID,” Campos said. “We’ve had huge casualties. … The Medical College has been affected as a whole.

About 260 doctors in Peru have died from the infection. Their peers blame the deaths on a shortage of appropriate personal safety devices and what they believe is the abandonment of the health care system by the government. In January alone, at least 10 doctors were killed by the virus, five of whom served in Lima’s capital.

The Andean nation was one of the hardest affected by the pandemic in the region in 2020 and is now seeing a resurgence in events. According to reports from Johns Hopkins University in the United States, the nation of 32.5 million people has reported more than 1.1 million cases of coronavirus and over 40,100 deaths due to COVID-19.

The mental health of physicians has been compromised by a rotating patient door, long work hours, a shortage of medical services, including oxygen, and a lack of protective equipment in hospitals around the world. Doctors now advise that if the government does not take the necessary action, Peru could face a medical crisis.

Campos said, “A healthy doctor will cure practically the majority of our population.” I will urge the state to reconcile, to consider and to work together. I think we have valuable professionals who can work together for the well-being of our general population with adequate health policies: experts, epidemiologists, infection specialists, intensive care specialists, emergency medical specialists.

For weeks, health care workers have mounted an open-ended nationwide protest to press their concerns over low pay, lousy insurance and other working conditions. On a recent day, they marched in Lima surrounded by police in riot gear, sporting scrubs, gowns, face masks, and face shields. They kept posters calling for wage rises and, via a megaphone, voiced their demands.

“Second wave of COVID and no increase in the budget for 2021,” said one sign that featured a snapshot of a patient-filled hospital corridor.

According to the Pan American Health Organisation, more than a million health care employees have contracted COVID-19 throughout Latin America. At least 4,000 people have died, most of them women.

“They have worked harder than ever before, under more gruelling circumstances,” Carissa Etienne, the head of the organisation, said during a virtual news conference on Wednesday. “Many have risked their own lives and those of their families to care for those who are ill and many COVID patients have been saved by their heroic efforts.”

At least four doctors launched a hunger strike earlier this month outside the Ministry of Health in an effort to raise the pressure on the Peruvian government. They are sleeping on the sidewalk in tents, and at least one of them has been hooked up with fluids to an IV.

“Every day, doctors die. Everyday, dentists die. Every day, nurses die. It’s an outrage to us because we’re really on the front line of this pandemic,’ said Dr. Teodoro Quiñones, one of the hunger strikers and secretary-general of the union representing doctors working in public hospitals in Peru. “We’re really concerned about how we’re managing the pandemic.”

Lying on a mattress in a tent, Quiñones said doctors do not agree that Peru will carry out an effective vaccine programme, given that for the past 10 months, officials have not been able to address oxygen supply problems in hospitals.

According to the union which represents them, over 120 nurses have died as a result of the pandemic in Peru. How many dentists and other health professionals have died as a result of a public health emergency remains unknown.

Experts believe the second wave of coronavirus cases in Peru was driven by the major protests in November that caused political instability in Peru, leading to the election of three presidents and holiday gatherings in a week. The surge led officials to issue new plans for the lockout that will take place on Sunday.

Dr. Yesenia Ramos works in a hospital in a rural area in the jungle of Peru that is only accessible by aircraft. She said that her hospital treats patients with COVID-19 and non-COVID and has lost 23 physicians, most of whom are specialists.

“It isn’t fair,” said Ramos. “We have the right to live, and we have the right to treat our insured patients as well as we should.”

Mexico City reported Garcia Cano and Lima reported Muñoz.

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