Colombo, August 9 (DailyMirror) – Sri Lanka’s war against the Delta variant which has exhausted the country’s health system and overburdened hospitals is still in its formative stages and is only expected to worsen in the coming three weeks, doctors have warned.
In addition to more COVID-19 deaths which will be witnessed in the coming weeks, deaths caused by other illnesses will also increase, as people with other sicknesses are presently afraid to visit hospitals Doctors say that while they were managing to provide oxygen to all patients who required it presently, in a week’s time they may start witnessing deaths due to lack of oxygen.
Already with beds running out in the main hospitals across the country and no beds available in the Western Province, doctors predict that daily deaths from the COVID-19 will hit at least 200 per day in the coming weeks and the number of daily patients to hit 5000.
The path ahead for Sri Lanka in the coming days and weeks looks grim as presently two to three patients share beds in ICUS and medical wards while thousands of more patients lie on mats on hospital floors. Patients are breathing their last on beds shared by two more patients. In addition to the severe COVID-19 spread, patients are also suffering from severe depression in hospitals by witnessing the worst in their lives.
Professor of Community Medicine, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Professor Suneth Agampodi told Daily Mirror that if restrictions on people’s movement are not placed with immediate effect, the battle against the Delta variant will peak in three to four weeks, causing more havoc while some other medical experts say, it may result in the collapse of the health sector which is already exhausted.
Professor Agampodi said that while the earlier COVID-19 waves witnessed in Sri Lanka were fought on the field, in this battle, the war has shifted to hospitals and this was a serious issue.
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“What is happening right now is that when we are getting a large number of patients, it exceeds our capacity in hospitals. It is not only about bed availability, but all other resources are also needed as well as human resources to manage these patients. Even though official reports say there is a particular number of beds available, in many hospitals, there are floor patients as well. Several more patients have to share one bed and in some hospitals, there are 3 to 4 patients per bed,” the Professor said.
With no exact cure for COVID, doctors are presently battling to provide supportive care to the patients while a COVID-19 outbreak is also spreading among health workers. Last week two hospitals, the Ratnapura General Hospital and the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital declared emergencies due to the rising number of infected patients, which is a rare phenomenon in Sri Lanka’s medical history.
With 2/3rd patients being oxygen dependent, doctors said that while they were managing to provide oxygen to all patients who required it presently, in a week’s time they may start witnessing deaths due to lack of oxygen.
This will be similar to what happened in India when Delta wreaked havoc a few months ago.
With the rising number of patients and deaths, doctors have urged the government to bring in policies that will prevent people’s mobility which is the main cause of the Delta spread.
In June, with the islandwide travel restriction in place, people’s mobility had dropped to 40 percent but as soon as the restrictions were lifted, presently people’s mobility is recorded at 90 percent. With continuous caution signals by health experts, mobility has somewhat declined within the past two to three days.
Doctors say that in addition to more COVID-19 deaths which will be witnessed in the coming weeks, deaths caused by other illnesses will also increase, as people with other sicknesses are presently afraid to visit hospitals.
According to official figures from the Health Ministry, Sri Lanka has an estimated 80,0000-bed capacity islandwide and had reserved an estimated 33,000 beds exclusively for COVID19 patients. But presently all COVID beds were occupied, with other wards in the main hospitals also converted to treat those infected.
Doctors say with patient numbers rising, they are exhausted while many health workers are also suffering from depression.
In fact, within the past one week, the system was so overburdened that all the main hospitals in Sri Lanka did not even have one bed free to take in new admissions. And on top of this, an average 2,500 new patients require beds per day.
“This is a pandemic we have never seen before. We have to be prepared to fight the virus at least for the coming six to eight months while globally this pandemic will be fought for at least the next two years. Also, we need to be prepared to face more variants which may enter the country in coming months,” Professor Agampodi said. In its fight which led to the Delta battle, the government and health sector did make mistakes. according to experts, initially, when the first wave broke out, doctors imposed a short term plan and brought the situation under control forgetting that COVID-19 was a long term issue. There were no future plans set to fight the virus.
Then when the vaccinations were under a trial stage in other parts of the world, the government did not place its orders at the early stage but instead chose to pay attention to unscientific methods to control the pandemic, like herbal syrups and other cures.
“This was a grave mistake we did and we directed the nation towards something else. All the local scientific committees were against this,” a senior doctor said.
Once the vaccination programme began, there were hiccups. Instead of focusing exclusively on the elderly and those with comorbidities, decisions were instead taken to vaccinate the active population, that is those between 30 to 60 years of age. Doctors say there was enough scientific evidence to prove that vaccinations could not be used to prevent transmission but they should be administered first to the elderly and those ill to prevent deaths. Most of the doctors were against the government’s decision back then. “It should have been given to elderly and those suffering from comorbidities first in Colombo and Western Province. If so we could have prevented more deaths,” a senior doctor said.
Then ahead of the April New Year, the government changed its policies on people’s movements. That was the turning point. Then people were given the false assurance that since Sri Lanka was carrying out the best vaccination programme in the world, citizens were protected from COVID.
“Many people had a wrong reassurance that since we are doing the best vaccination programme we are safe. Of course, Sri Lanka’s vaccination progress was one of the best, but we cannot say we are the best as still, we have only 15 percent coverage. But our progress once we started, was very good. But false reassurance with vaccines will increase deaths as this will increase people’s movement and this will increase transmission,” Professor Agampodi said.
With all these past mistakes, doctors are now asking the decision-makers to make their wake up call.
Major hospitals witnessing several deaths per day are running out of capacity to store bodies. In Panadura Base Hospital alone the hospital mortuary has run out of space and a container with a built-in freezer has been dispatched to store dead bodies. All mortuaries are running at full capacities while crematoriums are also working round the clock to fulfil the final rites of the deceased. The burial site in the East is also fast filling up.
With the coming three weeks extremely crucial for Sri Lanka, Health experts have urged people to restrict movement and avoid going out unnecessarily. Public gatherings such as meetings, weddings etc should be avoided and all health guidelines should be strictly maintained.
If immediate changes come into effect, then the peak of the Delta will be pushed back to 5 weeks and the numbers will then be low. Hospitals will also get more breathing space to treat patients.
But with the present scenario, people have been told to prepare for the worst as the peak is expected to hit in three weeks. (Jamila Husain)