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HCMC doctor recalls struggles amid pandemic's peak

By Le Phuong   November 8, 2021 | 12:24 am PT
During the recent outbreak in HCMC, healthcare workers were overwhelmed with a sheer volume of emergency calls, while equipment and human resource shortages posed enormous challenges.

At the beginning of July, there were days when Thu Duc City's Binh Chieu Ward recorded more than 100 Covid infections. As the local health station received multiple emergency calls, the phone ringing sound haunted many healthcare workers.

"Medics were exhausted while the number of calls kept flushing in," Dr Le Ba Kong, head of Binh Chieu Ward's health station, recalled.

Binh Chieu Ward has more than 80,000 people; about two-thirds are migrant workers living in rented rooms, including stacked houses with shared restrooms, a hotbed for the coronavirus.

Medics in Binh Chieu Ward take a Covid patient to the hospital. Photo courtesy of Binh Chieu health station

Medics in Binh Chieu Ward take a Covid patient to the hospital. Photo courtesy of Binh Chieu health station

The ward has Binh Chieu Industrial Park, Linh Trung Export Processing Zone, adjacent to Thu Duc wholesale market. At that time, many workers and traders had got one dose of Covid vaccine, so they dropped their guards. At the wholesale market, porters and sales did not wear masks because of the heat and difficulties in breathing.

Initially, the pandemic broke out in a company with 140 infections. Around 700 people were coming into close contact with them.

"The station was overwhelmed by a large amount of patients' information, we did not have time to confirm many of them," Kong recalled.

The local health station had eight people handling everything from processing patients' documents to conducting contact tracing.

Doctors and nurses all had to work at night, with no time to rest. There were not enough medical equipment and ambulances, so they had to mobilize equipment from benefactors.

After borrowing a car from an acquaintance, Kong then organized a night medical examination.

"I sat in the car to make a phone call to inquire about the situation of the patients then I drove to distribute medicine," Kong said, adding he started visiting Covid patients' house at around 7 p.m. and did not come home until 2-3 a.m. on the following day.

"There were many nights, we took patients to three different hospitals but none had oxygen cylinders left for them."

Local medics many times helplessly witnessed Covid patients die right in front of their eyes.

Among the patients who succumbed to Covid, there was a young man whose family called for help at 4:15 a.m. When doctors arrived, it was too late to save him. The man died 15 minutes later.

From mid-July, the situation began to improve as healthcare workers from the private sector and other provinces joined their hands in the midst of the pandemic.

Medical equipment, packages, and oxygen cylinders were fully provided, helping the local health authorities give full support to Covid patients.

Binh Chieu health station was supported by three military medics, four healthcare workers from northern Hai Duong Province, two doctors from a private hospital, and four other doctors checking up on Covid patients by phone.

Thanks to the support, the station could do the job better.

Doctor Nguyen Huy Manh from a private clinic join medics on Binh Chieu health station to treat local Covid patients. Photo courtesy of Binh Chieu health station

Doctor Nguyen Huy Manh from a private clinic join medics on Binh Chieu health station to treat local Covid patients. Photo courtesy of Binh Chieu health station

All positive cases were thoroughly verified, patients' living spaces were also disinfected and isolated. A mobile medical team and private medical center cooperated to treat patients at home, and quickly responded in case of emergency.

When the health sector in HCMC had a better process and solution to deal with the outbreak, equipment and medicine were fully supplied, so Binh Chieu Ward's health station decided to keep patients in its centralized quarantine area.

Many have recovered from the disease and volunteered to give medics a helping hand.

"We had a lot of works, the number of cases is still high, but everyone feels less pressure," said Kong.

Many elderly patients rejected to go to the hospital, wanting to stay at home, doctors had to discuss carefully before coming up with solutions.

The treatment team at that time included traditional medicine doctors, specialists in surgery, internal medicine, otolaryngology, and psychiatry, so they were confident when deciding which patients could stay at home, monitoring their health around the clock carefully.

Overcoming the initial difficulties, the clinic gradually got on its feet. During the recent outbreak, the ward recorded more than 7,500 patients. More than 100 of them were isolated at home.

Looking back on the recent arduous battle, Kong wished to have specialized training and specific policies for local clinics.

He hoped that the public health sector would "have a mechanism to cooperate with the private health sector, because currently the cooperation is all based on personal relations, there is no mechanism to follow."

Last weekend, deputy director of HCMC Health Department, Nguyen Van Vinh Chau, said the municipal healthcare system has weaknesses in the recent outbreak, and it is necessary to improve its quality and efficiency; adjust and publish appropriate policies to attract human resources, especially for clinics in local wards, communes, and town.

At an online meeting with 140 voters working in the healthcare sector on Oct. 9, deputy director of the department proposed the city should assign a quota on the number of people working for a health station based on the local population. The goal is to ensure sufficient human resources for primary care, medical examination, and treatment, preventing future epidemics.

HCMC has recorded more than 438,000 Covid cases in the current outbreak, starting late April. The city lifted its stringent lockdown on Oct. 1, allowing more socio-economic activities to resume.

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