KYJOV, Czech Republic – Soldiers in Poland are testing for coronavirus. The medically trained US National Guard will travel to the Czech Republic to work alongside the doctors there. A Czech university student is taking a blood sample to a laboratory, and the mayor of the capital is changing a shift at a hospital.
With cases on the rise in many Central European countries, retired firefighters, students and doctors are being asked to help out in troubled health care systems.
“This is really scary,” said Dr. Piotr Suwalski, head of the heart surgery department at a Polish hospital one day when the number of daily COVID-19 cases increased by 20% nationwide. “I think if we continue to increase 20% per day, no system can withstand it.”
Even before the pandemic, many countries in the region faced a severe shortage of health workforce due to years of funding shortages in their public health and emigration of doctors and nurses for better paid jobs in Western Europe after these countries joined the European Union in 2004 Nowadays, with the virus entering their hospitals, many Medical staff were sick, adding to the shortage.
More than 13,200 medical workers across the Czech Republic were infected, including 6,000 nurses and 2,600 doctors, according to the doctor’s association.
These countries don’t just need clinicians. Both Poland and the Czech Republic are building field hospitals when the number of beds is filled and the government says there are only 12 ventilators in all hospitals that accept COVID-19 patients in the pulse area around the Polish capital Warsaw.
This may sound familiar, but not in these countries. Many in the region have imposed tough restrictions in the spring – including border sealing and closing schools, shops and restaurants – and saw very low rates of infection even with viruses. has killed tens of thousands of people in Western Europe.
But now, many Central European countries are witnessing a massive attack similar to that experienced by their Western neighbors – and similar dire warnings.
When he announced new restrictions last week, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis set a time when his country’s health system would collapse, if new regulations were not applied to slow the spread. spread of the virus: from November 7 to 11.
With one of the highest rates of infection in Europe, Czech hospitals are urgently looking for volunteers. The government is deploying thousands of medical students to hospitals and other students to test sites.
In the capital city of Prague, Mayor Zdenek Hrib, who holds a medical degree, volunteered to provide an initial check-up for possible coronavirus patients at a university hospital. In the near future, 28 medical staff from the Nebraska and Texas National Guard are expected to arrive to assist in the treatment of patients at the Prague military hospital and a new field hospital in the development area. exhibition of the city.
Croatia has asked retiring former doctors to help in hospitals, while Slovenia has put retired doctors and current medical students on standby in case the situation worsens.
Meanwhile, Poland is mobilizing troops to test COVID-19 so that health professionals can focus on helping patients, as the Warsaw National Stadium and other spaces are underway. transformed into a field hospital. Three times this week, the country reported a new record high in daily infections, and on Thursday it also announced record daily deaths, at 301.
In Poland, deaths among people with cancer and other diseases are also on the rise because doctors and nurses cannot keep up with their care, said Suwalski, head of cardiac surgery at the Internal Hospital. case in Warsaw, the capital’s main coronavirus hospital said.
“The number of victims of this pandemic is not just those who died directly from COVID-19,” Suwalski said. “There are also (patients) dying from a change of conditions, and even a breakdown of the health system.”
The problem is particularly noticeable in small town hospitals that do not have the resources of university medical centers, such as the one in Kyjov, a southeast Czech town with 11,000 people.
The director of the hospital there, Lubomir Wenzl, said staff became critical in October when the number of COVID-19 patients doubled in three weeks to nearly 60, and 75 medical staff fell ill.
He called for volunteers on social media and received so many offers that the hospital could choose who needed. Most hospitals choose those who have had medical training. They keep a list of other people they can call if they need it.
“I have strong arms and legs, and this is what I can do as a firefighter,” Antonin Kuchar, the deputy mayor and a volunteer firefighter helped move the patient around. said the hospital.
Vojtech Coufal, a mechanical engineering student at a university in Brno, also answered the call. The 20-year-old has been trained in first aid and took blood samples around the hospital campus.
Dr Jiri Vyhnal, head of the special care unit in Kyjov, which treats COVID-19 patients in serious condition, said: “ Although the help of volunteers is important, their role is obviously limited.
“It’s impossible to replace those doctors with anyone else, because it takes a long time to accumulate experience to be a good Specialist,” Vyhnal said. “The problem is that a small group of doctors and nurses will have to take care of a large number of patients treated with pulmonary ventilation.”
When the number of coronavirus patients increased, the hospital closed a number of departments: ENT, neurology, rehabilitation and orthopedic.
Wenzl, the hospital’s director, said: “We had to stop implementing planned activities, but we had to continue the emergency operations.
Meanwhile, the special care unit has 11 patients and can accommodate up to 18, according to Vyhnal.
He said he and his staff are willing to work on their holidays “to stop a scenario in Italy”, referring to the overcrowding of hospitals there.
“We’ll do everything,” he said. “But of course we’re afraid, who won’t?”
Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland. Associated Press’ writer Dusan Stojanovic comes from Belgrade, Serbia.