Babies battle against time while waiting for oxygen in Bolivia

By Luis Angel Reglero

La Paz, Aug 10 (efe-epa).- A dozen newborn babies await the arrival of oxygen at a hospital in La Paz as time runs out to the despair of those trying to keep them alive.

“The moment oxygen is unexpectedly taken away from them, they die,” Dr Luis Bedregal, a neonatologist at the Women’s Hospital, told reporters on Monday.

The 12 babies in intensive care lie in incubators while nurses monitor the medical equipment that helps keep them alive.

The newborn unit has the capacity for 24 babies, but they already have 29 and the systems of the hospitals that could support them have collapsed.

Despair is palpable in the doctor’s words as he wonders what he will say to parents if a baby dies from lack of oxygen supply.

He will not sign a death certificate, but will call a coroner “because this is murder,” he said.

The lack of supply is attributed to social protests that have kept roads closed for more than a week, and therefore the interim government organized its transport by plane and with military convoys to distribute it throughout the country.

“It is a lie” that there was a shortage before these blockades began, the doctor said, because health centers work in a network that shares oxygen supplies and some even produce it themselves, but they need liquid oxygen as a base.

The demand is now three times higher than usual, both in health centers and for patients at home.

Bedregal insisted on what many health workers, who are working beyond their capacity, denounce, with swamped health centers and fewer staff, because risk of contagion among these healthcare workers is three times higher and many have contracted COVID-19.

However, all who can, are “ready for whatever may come,” even in this case, thanks to oxygen balloons that some people have donated.

“We are very limited,” he said. “They are going to die in our hands – we will not be able to do anything.”

Oxygen tanks at the entrance of the hospital are at zero, said the director of the center, Dr Yuri Pérez, pointing to a meter.

The reserve units next to them are of little use, and it is not known when the tanks that refill them will get around the blockades, Pérez said.

In addition to being vital for newborns, oxygen is needed in other units such as intensive care and “the demand everywhere is growing,” warned the director.

The hospital is full, like many in Bolivia, due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, but with fewer staff, as many health workers have contracted the novel coronavirus.

The blockades began last week as groups protest against new election delays, the first in May and now from September to October.

The interim government denounces before the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the international community what it considers an attack on public health, while protesters deny impeding the passage of personnel and health supplies. EFE-EPA


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