Volunteer paramedics offer ray of hope for Venezuelan Covid-19 patients

By Barbara Agelvis

Caracas, Apr 29 (EFE).- Omer Gonzalez, 59, lives alone in Venezuela’s capital and became infected with the novel coronavirus a month ago, although he was not immediately aware of his condition.

He is alive today thanks to a group of volunteer paramedics who formerly had responded to traffic accidents but now are treating Covid-19 patients in their homes.

The 25 members of the non-governmental organization Angeles de las Vias (Angels of the Roads), including professionally trained doctors and nurses, are offering care to people with coronavirus symptoms who either have limited income or are living alone.

A rising case load in Venezuela starting in late February put a severe strain on hospitals and clinics in Caracas, where thousands of Covid-19 sufferers have had to battle the illness at home either due to a lack of hospital capacity or because they feared they would die alone at a medical facility.

The pandemic has further battered an already beleaguered health care system in Venezuela, a leftist-led country hard hit by United States sanctions where patients are often asked to obtain the equipment and medication they need for their treatment.

The health emergency has now abated somewhat. Fewer calls are now being made to that NGO even though around 1,000 new coronavirus infections are still being registered daily nationwide, according to official figures.

“The reality is that (the emergency) has subsided a bit over these past two weeks. We’ve mainly attended to post-Covid patients with complications,” the group’s president, Jonathan Quantip, told Efe.

One of those individuals was Gonzalez, whose daughter Maria Gabriela, now living in Chile, posted a message on Twitter late last month saying her father had contracted the coronavirus, was residing alone in Caracas and urgently needed medical care at home.

The message went viral. Maria Gabriela, who also had explained in the tweet that she was originally from eastern Venezuela and didn’t know anyone in the capital, started receiving the names and telephone numbers of medical facilities, laboratories and NGOs and ended up contacting Angeles de las Vias.

When the volunteer paramedics found her father, he was experiencing fever-induced hallucinations and had an extremely low blood oxygen saturation level of 74 percent (a normal level is greater than 95 percent), she told Efe.

There are moments of Gonzalez’s ordeal that he does not recall. He was connected to an oxygen concentrator for more than 10 days, and during that time the paramedics conducted medical tests, took the results to laboratories and made sure he was taking all of his medications.

He now feels much better, is in high spirits and is deeply grateful to the paramedics who helped him recover.

“They’ve become like family to me. I owe my father’s life to them … the only cost I covered was paying for the tests and the treatment,” Maria Gabriela told Efe.

Angeles de las Vias is now less overwhelmed with calls but still is receiving requests for home care, mainly from people in poor areas of the city who must ask neighbors, co-workers or relatives for help in covering the cost of medications, whose price can be as much as 10 times the minimum monthly salary (now less than a dollar). EFE


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