They have died fulfilling their duty, faithful to their vocation of service, on the front line, amid great deficiencies and a State management with strong political overtones. It is the Nicaraguan health personnel who died from the Covid-19 pandemic. Those who today continue to attend hospitals and health centers, lament the deaths and fear that a rebound of the virus will cause more deaths among the profession.
According to the report of the independent Citizen Observatory Covid-19 Nicaragua, until December 23, 2020, in Nicaragua there have been 112 deaths of health workers. It is the only figure that makes visible the human losses among said personnel. The Government minimizes the consequences of the pandemic in the country. It has hid information and provided scarce and not very credible data on the advance of the virus.
To date, the Ministry of Health (MINSA) reports 164 deaths from Covid-19 throughout the country, a number very close to the 112 reported only among health personnel. It is also a very low figure compared to those of neighboring countries that, unlike Nicaragua, did take physical distancing measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Honduras reports more than 3,000, Costa Rica more than 2,000.
The Nicaraguan authorities have not only hidden deaths from the pandemic. They also promote crowds and fired medical personnel who complained about the lack of personal protection gear.
A compulsory discreet mourning
In the midst of the secrecy around the pandemic imposed by the Ortega Government, not only was there a lack of tribute for the work and sacrifice of the health personnel, but also the loved ones of those who died from the coronavirus had to go through a compulsory discreet mourning.
This is the case of the friends and family of Walter Escalante Alonso, a nurse who died on May 23, 2020, from Covid-19 at the “Hospital Espana,” in Chinandega, one of the departments most affected by the pandemic in Nicaragua in 2020.
His colleagues made a poster with his photograph where they called him a “hero in white coat.”
“We have a big challenge to NOT lose one more,” wrote the acting director of the hospital. She shared it in a message to her colleagues to notify them of the death.
The 35-year-old male nurse was married to a doctor, had a young daughter and were expecting their second when he died.
“He was a kind, cheerful person, who always made patients and everyone laugh,” recalls one of his colleagues.” The co-worker prefers not to reveal their name, for fear of reprisals. The official policy is silence about what happens in all public institutions of Nicaragua, including hospitals.
Walter had two jobs: at the “Hospital Espana,” which is public; and in the private Amocsa, located in the same city. He was a tireless worker, says his colleague. He never got sick.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the “Hospital Espana” prepared a small area that was soon overwhelmed by the number of cases. By May, the hospital could not cope with a single area, so a second was opened. The nurses were “the spearhead” in this new and strenuous work scheme. They rotated through the Covid-19 areas. Walter was part of those shifts, his colleague said.
“The hospital exhausted its human and financial resources. Seeing so many dead people was devastating. The emergencies were overcrowded with people with great difficulty to breathe,” describes Walter’s colleague.
There was a lot of fear among the health personnel, but we had to continue. What was left was to cheer each other up. They began to think that in 20 or 30 years they would look to the past and happily say: “we survived the coronavirus,” he recalls.
We always reminded each other of the safety measures to protect our families. “Remember to bathe when you get home from the hospital,” we told to each other, even more in his case that his wife was pregnant.
A terrible blow
Walter caught the virus and became so seriously ill that he was immediately hospitalized. After 24 or 36 hours they had to connect him to a mechanical ventilator, but he eventually passed away.
“It was a terrible blow. Many of my colleagues quit their jobs because they saw that the conditions in which we were in did not fully protected us,” says Walter’s colleague.
He recalled that the hospital workers received the message of Walter’s death on their cell phones. They immediately broke into tears. “Nurses, orderlies, laundry people, kitchen people, everyone crying. We spent days crying.”
In that hospital there were other members of the medical staff who died, he assures. However, he does not have an exact figure, “I could not tell you because it was handled with secrecy. Not much was said about it because of administration orders.”
The virus already does not allow loved ones to have the customary farewell rituals. Additionally, the official secrecy about the pandemic means that medical personal must live their grief almost in secret. “It is sad that the work of so many people who fought is not recognized. That such recognition is not given by the health system,” he regrets.
He is also concerned that a second wave of infections will arrive, as strong as the first. Such could snatch more of his colleagues: “It scares us. You know that in December people got together and went out. On the street these days if you see someone wearing a mask, it is a rarity,” he says with distress.