Lack of oxygen, hospital saturation asphyxiating 2 Bolivian cities

Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and El Alto, Bolivia, May 27 (EFE).- The lack of bottled oxygen, the overwhelming of intensive care units and the lack of medications have begun to asphyxiate the Bolivian cities of Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, the pair hardest hit by the third Covid-19 wave that is devastating the country.

Some 55 kilometers (34 miles) from downtown Cochabamba, in the town of Arbieto, stands the Oxigeno del Valle plant, which is operating 24 hours a day and performing “miracles” trying to supply the growing demand for bottled oxygen, plant chief Amilcar Huanca told EFE.

The plant has the ability to refill 10 oxygen cylinders per hour, or 240 per day, and at times this becomes complicated because the equipment needs to be shut down for at least an hour, he said.

“But with all that we’re not managing to supply the entire population. You can see, there’s a lot of demand. I don’t know how other companies are doing it, whether they’re doing it or not. We’re doing our work, but they’re demanding too much of us,” he said.

Every day at the plant entrance long lines of people and vehicles begin forming at dawn waiting to get at least one bottle of oxygen.

“I already came here about three times. The first time there were about 20 cars all morning. It was doable, but when the family needs a lot of oxygen and a bottle doesn’t last you all day, then it’s a desperate situation,” Raul, one of the people waiting in line since early morning, told EFE.

He lamented that Covid is now “more serious, more sudden” these days.

The situation is similar in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city and the one hardest hit by the pandemic, where endless lines of people looking for oxygen, the lack of meds and the overwhelmed ICUs are the name of the game.

That is the situation at the Hospital Japones, where the ICU has been overwhelmed by this third wave that is leaving the health personnel “more stressed,” above all because more seriously ill young people are arriving seeking care than in the first two waves, nurse Sandra Rios told EFE.

“We never thought we’d have so many young people in intensive care,” said Rios, who added that “service has collapsed” and the health care workers are exhausted.

Another problem is the scarcity of medications, in particular sedatives like fentanyl, midazolam and atracurium, which are difficult to find in pharmacies or are being sold privately at hugely inflated prices.

These drugs are “indispensable” in managing Covid-19 patients “because they have to be sedated” for their “lung function to recover,” Rios said.

Local resident Celso Pesoa is experiencing firsthand the lack of these sedatives that his wife needs. She came down with Covid-19 and delivered a premature baby in the hospital.

Pesoa told EFE that during the first wave, a vial of these meds cost about $2.50, but now they are running $11 or $12, or more.

“People don’t have any money and they’re doing the impossible to find these medications so that their relatives don’t die,” he said.

As occurred during the earlier spikes in the pandemic, the social networks have once again become filled with solidarity campaigns, requests for meds and obituaries in various parts of Bolivia, particularly in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba.

In cities like La Paz and El Alto, the ICUs are full and there are people on the waiting list, but fortunately the dramatic and tragic episodes Santa Cruz and Cochabamba are experiencing are not yet happening there.

The 11 ICU beds at the El Alto Sur Hospital now have Covid patients who arrived last week, while there are another 17 Covid patients in other beds in the hospital proper and two more in the emergency area who are waiting for an ICU bed to open up, the hospital’s assistant director, Roberto Carlos Aranda, told EFE.

The health center is coordinating with others in the area to divert cases that it cannot handle and has also taken precautions so that its patients do not lack meds or oxygen, he said.

The Pharmacy Chains Association confirmed several days ago the scarcity of about 20 meds, attributing this to the importers’ and laboratories’ inability to fulfill their orders, adding that the appropriate steps are being taken to avoid the situation.

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