Doctors without defenses

By Julia R. Arévalo

Madrid, Mar 29 (efe-epa).- Healthcare workers are a shield against Covid-19. This phrase has been repeated time and again by Spanish authorities, and it has proved to be true.

Spain’s healthcare system is ample, with almost 41 doctors per 10,000 citizens, the 13th highest ratio in the world, similar to Italy and Russia but just behind Germany, with 41, Sweden, with 54 and, of course, Cuba, with 82.

Taken as a whole, the European Union has 36 doctors per 10,000 people while the United States has 26, South Korea 24 and China just 18, according to the World Health Organization.

However, the number of nurses in Spain is 55 per 10,000 people, somewhat lower than the EU average of 86.

To deal with the avalanche of coronavirus patients, the Spanish government incorporated some 50,000 recently retired or final year student doctors and nurses into the system and ordered those working in private health care to serve the country’s public network.

In order to centralize its management, all of Spain’s autonomous regions were brought under the auspices of the Spanish Ministry of Health.

But Spain’s inability thus far to flatten the curve is down to its lack of resources.

The ratio of hospital beds per citizen in Spain is roughly 30 for every 10,000, less than the EU as a whole with 56 per 10,000 and far behind Germany, which has 86.

The Armed Forces have erected a field hospital with 5,500 beds inside the huge convention center on the outskirts of Madrid, the worst-hit Spanish region.

And just this week the Spanish government landed a contract with China worth 578 million euros ($645m) for the provision of millions of masks and gloves, and just under 1,000 ventilators.

“This has overrun us. We were unable to imagine the magnitude of this problem. I also thought it was just some type of cold,” a nurse tells Efe on the condition of anonymity.

Iria Suárez, a colleague who works in primary care, says: “This would have overwhelmed anyone. No health professional was ready for a pandemic. It was something unknown to us.”


The mask is a valuable asset nowadays. Everyone thinks they need one, including the healthy person who takes their dog for a walk down an empty street. Medical workers in Spain, on the other hand, have publicly denounced a shortage of equipment.

“We’ve not been lacking but the equipment gets worse every time. We have received overalls that are like raincoats, without a strap. And they are thinking of washing the equipment to reuse it,” the ER nurse says.

“I know I risk being infected, I just want the tools.”

Suárez says they had received plastic aprons instead of proper protective gowns and that they were forced to sterilize masks to reuse them.

The nurse who requested anonymity said the hospital where she works needs more beds and that patients have been forced to sleep on chairs in the corridors, unable to observe social distancing rules.

Personal protective equipment is no longer discarded and changed after each use, given the constant flow of patients.

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