We're fighting Covid with one hand tied behind our back

October 26, 2021 | 07:06 pm PT
Quan The Dan Doctor
Some say charging for Covid-19 treatment will worsen inequality; I say they are unable to see the forest for the trees.

"Hey Doctor. Don't you recognize me?"

I turned around and saw Phuong, a Covid-19 patient I had been treating. Just last week she was lying limp on the hospital bed, sweat drenching the white sheet. All she managed to say then were "hungry" or "thirsty" as her lungs moved to the rhythm of the ventilator.

But today she is finally ready to be discharged.

Her face beaming with joy, she said: "Thank you so much doctor. Without you, I would have died the other day."

There is another woman on the next bed, who follows the doctor's advice without complaining. Her blood oxygen level was steady this morning even after I turned down the ventilator a notch.

I told her: "You're getting a lot better now. I will transfer you to another room. You're going home soon." She smiled, happy to know she had finally escaped death's grasp.

For the past month I had prayed every night before going to bed I would be able to see my patients still alive the next morning and approve the discharge of severe Covid cases.

I know they will eventually leave with memories of people in white and blue coats, of voices and accents from every region this country has to offer.

I too have realized some things from my trip to the frontline. I do not think we have effectively mobilized all the resources we have to fight the coronavirus. There is another key player that has yet to join in: the private medical system.

It is tough to handle Covid-19 patients. Situations can literally change overnight, even over the course of a few hours. Hospital rooms can be quickly filled with fluids and excrement, requiring constant diaper and drape changes.

Throw in daily hygiene needs like brushing teeth, and medical tasks like administering injections, giving patients medicines in time, changing gauze, inserting tubes, taking out tubes, rehabilitation... and things can get overwhelming.

Throw a ventilator into the mix and things get twice as hard. Normally, there are two nurses in my ward to take care of a patient on a ventilator, and a doctor to constantly keep tabs on the situation.

But with the nightmare that is Covid, a single health worker must run back and forth between dozens of patients at the same time. Every time another patient is put on a ventilator, people cannot help but shudder.

I have a friend who works at a private hospital. He called to inform me ecstatically that his patient had finally managed to get off the ventilator. I asked him how he did it.

He said: "You just need to have enough care. It takes many people to care for one person to pull through."

A doctor treats a Covid-19 patient at a hospital in HCMCs District 8, September 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

A doctor treats a Covid-19 patient at a hospital in HCMC's District 8 on September 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

The public healthcare system has already been strained, but we are still not looking to the private sector for help. Letting them join the fray with proper oversight and policies to ensure transparency is a solution we cannot afford to ignore.

I believe it is the way to fully utilize the resources that society has and ensure the public healthcare system can spare more time and effort to help those who cannot afford expensive medical treatment.

If it comes down to pricing, naturally the cost of treating Covid patients should be high. There is a constant need for protective suits, not to mention a plethora of equipment and medicines. Private facilities are likely to charge more for treatment than their public counterparts, but patients can still have their insurance to pay off some of the costs.

In my opinion, a Covid-19 patient at a private hospital might have to spend a few hundred thousand dong a day extra in normal cases while severe ones could increase costs by a few million dong a day.

Some say charging Covid-19 treatments may exacerbate inequality. I say there has never been absolute equality in any society. We should accept that and try to improve the situation by having policies to achieve greater equality starting now.

The pandemic still rages and remains more unpredictable than ever. We need to do whatever we can to adapt to it, instead of having wishful thoughts that things will go back to how they used to be.

The private sector needs to step up to the challenge now so that more lives can be saved.

*Quan The Dan is a doctor at the Becamex Binh Duong Covid-19 Intensive Care Field Hospital. The opinions expressed are his own.

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