Peru

COVID-19 leaves high numbers of deaths and overwhelmed hospitals in Peru

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  • COVID-19 is hitting Peru with fierce force, driving the medical staff and hospitals to the brink of collapse.
  • The high COVID-19 mortality means the country now has one of the highest number of deaths above the historical average in the world.
  • MSF teams are scaling up activities to help the struggling healthcare system in Peru, treating patients north of Lima.

LIMA – A deadly wave of COVID-19 is overwhelming Peru, where hospitals are struggling and critically lacking oxygen supplies, while infection rates are driven up by the presence of the P1 variant, commonly referred to as the Brazilian variant.

According to WHO data, in the first week of April, Peru, with a population of around 33 million, reported an average of almost 10,000 new cases and 300 deaths per day. The number of deaths represented an increase in excess of 50 per cent over the previous week. As a result, the country now suffers from the highest number of excess deaths in the world relative to population.

Medical staff are already stretched to their maximum capacity and beyond, while intensive care resources are insufficient to meet the needs. These issues are compounded by scarce access to badly needed vaccination: just three per cent of the population has received at least the first dose of a vaccine. All of this is preventing the healthcare system from mounting an adequate outbreak response.

Following an assessment carried out earlier in the year, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) launched an emergency intervention in collaboration with the health authorities in Huaura province, north of Lima, where the regional hospital in the provincial capital, Huacho, is severely short-staffed in facing the surge in the number of COVID-19 patients.

“Our intervention has two main objectives,” says Jean-Baptiste Marion, MSF head of mission. “We want to help to take pressure off Huacho hospital and the local healthcare system through an ancillary facility, where we can treat COVID-19 patients and provide them with oxygen when needed.”

“Today, many non-critical patients end up in Huacho hospital, overwhelming the facility,” says Marion. “Also, to complement this activity, we are working with community networks to improve early detection, looking to identify patients and provide them with the needed level of care before their condition worsens and they end up in critical condition.”

MSF teams also support Huacho hospital’s intensive care unit, to improve patient management and help through every step of the patient flow.

The approach adopted by MSF is centred on a 50-bed in-patient facility connected to Huacho hospital and a network of local health care centres. Half of these beds are equipped for clinically monitored isolation, while the other half can provide patients with oxygen, including for patients in severe condition.

The country has now reached a cumulative total of over 1.7 million COVID-19 cases and over 57,000 deaths. A major issue observed by our teams on the ground is that people are often reluctant to seek medical care in hospitals when they start showing symptoms, choosing private practices (which may not always be able to offer the required level of care), or even opting for self-medication.

The consequences for an overmatched health system are devastating; people in many cities queue overnight and sleep in the rough to fill up their oxygen tanks from the few working reservoirs, hoping to take care of their relatives at home.

For this reason, MSF is partnering with the local authorities’ community outreach activities, in order to ensure that COVID-19 patients in the province are identified as early as possible and headed in the right direction from the beginning, when seeking healthcare.

“Improving screening and patient treatment is a priority today,” says Marion. “Without an urgent boost in access to vaccination, though, it is hard to expect an improvement any time soon.”