Hanoi Covid patients unable to access health services, officials plead personnel shortage

By Quynh Nguyen   February 27, 2022 | 01:20 am PT
Unable to reach local health officials via phone, Ngoc Lan had to physically visit her ward medical center despite being seven months pregnant to declare she had contracted Covid.

But for all her effort the 27-year-old in Cau Giay District was merely told to go home and wait for further instructions.

After leaving work on Monday she developed Covid symptoms such as cough and fever, self-tested at home and found she was positive.

"I was afraid since I have not been vaccinated," she says.

She tried to call the ward medical center, but the line was always busy. She tried a different number and managed to reach a medic, but was told to declare her infection status online and wait for someone to call.

However, after nearly three hours of waiting for the call, she tried calling the support hotline but no one picked up the phone.

"I was not trying to get medicines or admitted to a hospital. I just wanted to be guided on how a pregnant woman should treat Covid at home".

At 7 p.m. she put on a protective suit and mask and ventured out to the ward health center since she was beginning to fear her unborn child would be affected if she is not treated in time.

After being told to go home she is still waiting for someone to call.

On the same day Hien Thuc of Nam Tu Liem District attempted but failed to contact the medical station after she and her roommate tested positive.

She has made dozens of phone calls every day since then, but is still to reach anyone.

"I decided to treat myself at home, but I still want to report it to the ward because an infected person who fails to declare their health status can be fined VND10-20 million ($440-880)."

Furthermore, reporting to local officials means a patient will receive a certificate after recovering, which will entitle them to financial support from the government and employer. They will also receive a patient code number for getting treated in a hospital.

Thuc says: "It has been six days and I still cannot contact local health officials. By now I think I am almost fully recovered".

Because her friends and colleagues are also infected, she could not ask for their support, and instead has been ordering food and medicines online for the past few days.

She expresses unhappiness about the fact that different wards treat people contracting Covid differently.

"Local health officials in Dich Vong Hau Ward texted my friend, who also contracted Covid, every day to inquire and offer support. Meanwhile, I was unable to reach any medical personnel at my ward health center".

Patients arrive at a local medical facility in Hanois Hoang Mai District to be re-tested on Feb. 23. Photo courtesy of Minh Hieu

Patients visit a local medical facility in Hanoi's Hoang Mai District to be retested for Covid, Feb. 23, 2022. Photo courtesy of Minh Hieu

Nguyen Anh Tuan, head of the Nam Tu Liem District Department of Health, claims the reason why the medical center did not get back to Thu for six days was a shortage of medical personnel.

Meanwhile, the number of infections in the district is soaring. It has so far reported 745 cases.

On Feb. 22 Tran Thi Nhi Ha, director of the city Department of Health, admitted that access to health services at the commune and ward levels has been difficult, blaming it on the strain on the healthcare system.

Each ward has around 10 medics who have to care for thousands of Covid patients, she said.

Nam Tu Liem District has come up with a model under which newly infected patients need to inform their residential group, and these groups are responsible for contacting the ward health station for assistance.

"Rather than attempting to contact the medical station, patients should contact their residential group," Tuan says.

But Minh Hieu of Hoang Mai District says: "But what's the point of contacting the leader of your residential area when you are still not getting sufficient medical support? That's even more disappointing".

He tested positive for Covid earlier this week and called the medical station to inform them.

He was taken aback when he was told to retest at the ward medical center.

"Now patients must go to the ward to confirm their test result. It is highly absurd".

He points out that not isolating people who came into close contact with patients F0 and instead requiring them to visit medical facilities poses a huge risk of infection, especially with Hanoi seeing a spike in infections just a week ago.

According to the Ministry of Health, the average number of new cases in Hanoi for the past seven days has been 7,763 a day, compared to 2,891 from a month earlier.

Dr Nguyen Huy Nga, a former director of the Ministry of Health's department of preventive medicine, says telling infected patients to go to the ward medical station for retesting "is an unnecessary".

"Forcing infected people to go to medical facilities is unsafe since they could potentially infect more people".

Dr Hoang Thanh Tuan, who was formerly involved in anti-epidemic efforts in Ho Chi Minh City and now runs an online military medical support group to help with Covid treatment at home, says patients in Hanoi mostly have mild symptoms and so there is no need to rush out and buy medicines.

Patients should restrict themselves to light physical activity, practice breathing for at least 15 minutes a day, drink lots of water, and not skip meals, he adds.

Ngoc Lan remains isolated in her room, still waiting for a phone call from the medical center.

She says with a sigh: "They told me to go home and wait for someone to call for assistance. But I'm not sure how long or when I will receive a call back."

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