Dr. Adan Alonso, 62, would see anyone who requested help in his private clinic. He was aware that he was being exposed to a large viral load as the result of his attention to patients with the novel Coronavirus, but “there was no way of stopping him,” recalls his daughter, Magda Alonso, also a doctor. On June14, Dr. Adan Alonso became one of the 94 health workers who have died in less than 60 days, in the context of the pandemic in Nicaragua.
“My father was a person whose life was lived in the service of humanity. No one who knew him could say otherwise,” Dr. Alonso emphasized. His death “left us an immense vacuum, a vacuum impossible to fill,” she confessed, during an interview on the internet news program Esta Semana, where homage was paid to all those workers who have lost their lives trying to save others.
The latest report from the independent monitoring group “COVID-19 Citizen’s Observatory” indicates that up until July 8th, 719 health workers have become sick with symptoms of SARS-CoV2, and 94 of these have died.
Among the heath workers who have died from COVID-19 are 40 doctors, 22 nursing personnel, 14 administrative workers, six laboratory technicians, three medical visitors, two dentists and seven members of the support teams, specified the Observatory’s report.
It’s not a matter of mere “numbers or statistics, we’re losing valuable human beings,” lamented Dr. Magda Alonso. She also lost her uncle, Maximo Guillermo Alonso; like her and her father, Maximo was also a physician.
A collapse in the health system
The causes of the contagion among health workers haven’t been examined at this time, stated Dr. Anelly Perez, a member of the independent United Nicaraguan Medical Association. “It could be said that there was a moment when the health system collapsed, and at times they lacked the capacity to attend to everyone.”
During that collapse in the health system, the deaths of Drs. Carlos Cardenas and Luis Angel Ocampo occurred. They “practically passed away in the hospital parking lot,” recalled Dr. Perez.
All these deaths “have impacted everyone in the field,” because “you can’t deny anyone medical attention,” even though “it’s not in your area,” she noted.
Among the deceased health workers are doctors who worked in the public hospitals, others from the private sector, and some who were in semi-retirement. Many of the latter were elderly doctors, some over eighty, who continued seeing patients “because it’s something you carry in your heart … we’re tremendously humane,” indicated Dr. Perez.
One of those elder doctors, who attended his patients until he had no more strength left, was Dr. Maximo Guillermo Alonso.
“My uncle Maximo Alonso was a person who was well-known for his kind heart. He attended to many people with limited incomes, while my father attended to both extremes: people with a lot of resources, and those with none at all. Both of them were fully dedicated and never said no to seeing patients with COVID-19,” she remembered.
Both doctors feel that the deaths and illnesses from COVID-19 among the health workers are due to the fact that this pandemic is “unprecedented”. In Dr. Alonso’s view: “Doctors weren’t prepared anywhere in the world.” Currently, she added, “We’re still learning new things about this virus.”
Nevertheless, she maintained that it’s the obligation of the Health System in Nicaragua “to inform the population” and “to translate the medical language in such a way that the population can understand what’s happening.”
The Ministry of Health could have mitigated the impact of the pandemic
Although the SARS-CoV2 virus that emerged in China in December 2019 is completely new, the Nicaraguan health ministry (Minsa) “was alerted in time” to the possible consequences of this virus, but “the government ignored it. Initially, there wasn’t adequate protective equipment, and there was no training for the workers,” criticized Dr. Perez. “The consequences,” she feels, “are catastrophic.”
Not only did Minsa ignore the recommendations for protecting the health workers, but the Ministry also fired dozens of doctors who demanded adequate equipment to protect them from the novel Coronavirus. Currently, the Ministry still isn’t providing gear, but “no one” dares to complain,” accused Dr. Perez. This is principally due to the fact that “there’s a lot of fear”, “a dose of political fanaticism”, and “economic needs”, she highlighted.
The absence of government actions, “is being translated into losses of life, of health,” Dr. Magda Alonso emphasized. In the public hospitals, they’re only protecting the doctors who are assigned to the COVID-19 areas. Other health workers “aren’t being equally equipped”, although they, too can become infected “if they treat asymptomatic patients,” she affirmed.
Minsa must provide equipment to all of its workers, “right up to the cleaning personnel. The life of a doctor is as valuable as that of a nurse, that of a laboratory assistant, that of anyone,” stressed Dr. Alonso. The novel Coronavirus continues to spread all over and “you have to protect yourself,” As the doctor summed it up: “bullets and illnesses don’t ask you what political party you belong to.”