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Panamanian doctors protest amid explosion of coronavirus cases

July 17, 2020

Panamanian doctors increased their protests, demanding supplies and additional personnel to attend to the coronavirus pandemic that Thursday exceeded 50,000 infected people.

Fifty doctors protested in front of the Arnulfo Arias Madrid hospital complex, the country’s main public medical center, located in Panama City.

The country reached 1,000 deaths and more than 50,000 infected with the coronavirus. With a population of 4 million inhabitants, Panama went from around 200 infections a day to more than 1,100 in recent weeks after reopening various economic activities.

With signs that read “I am a doctor, not a martyr,” “Take care of us to take care of them,” and “We also get sick, but still we are here,” the doctors marched in demand of more equipment and personnel.

Some protesters wore a red cardboard cross attached to their uniforms, symbolizing medical personnel who have suffered from the new coronavirus.

“Unfortunately, we still do not have the staff that has been said would be hired, and we are tired from four months of continuous work,” resident doctor Elsa Rueda told AFP.

Doctors asked for more protective equipment, medical and laboratory supplies, and healthcare personnel “to be able to treat patients appropriately,” Rueda said. According to her, on the night shifts at the Arnulfo Arias hospital, there are only one or two doctors for every 60 or 70 patients.

“The staff is getting infected, is getting sick and has to stay home,” David Macías, a doctor who himself became a COVID-19 patient, told AFP.

“That increases the gap between the number of patients and the number of staff,” which “really worsens” patient care for COVID-19, he added.

 A ‘tragedy’ in the making

“The tragedy we are living cannot be nuanced; the impact of the pain suffered by Panamanian families cannot be softened,” recognized Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo. “A thousand deaths is not just a statistic.”

Hours earlier, the president stated that his government is still working for the “permanent acquisition” of equipment and new health personnel.

The director of the Social Security Fund, Enrique Lau, reported that in recent days more than a million masks have been shipped, in addition to hats, gloves, sanitary suits and glasses.

Cortizo defended that the high number of infections in Panama is due to the fact that 3,200 tests are carried out every day in the places most affected by the pandemic.

“Panama does not make up figures, and we do not hide figures. The number of cases that exist are real and it is communicated to the country,” Cortizo said.

According to official data, about 23,000 people are at home or hotel isolation, while 1,000 are hospitalized — 166 of them in intensive care.

The scenario is testing the limits of an already-strained health system, and protests from health personnel have multiplied across the country.

“We do not see the decrease in cases, and we do not see personal protective equipment flow in the correct way,” lamented doctor Víctor González.

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