Doctors without Borders is warning that El Salvador's medical system is failing under the pressure of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are seeing an increase in the number of people dying in their homes before our ambulance services arrive,” Luis Romero Pineda, the organization's project coordinator in El Salvador, said in a statement. “Admitting patients to hospitals has also become more difficult. Worryingly, community leaders are reporting deaths in their communities, some of them related to the suspension of primary health care.”
In March, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele enforced harsh pandemic restrictions on the Central American country, forcing people to remain in their homes and stopping primary health care services in hospitals and health units.
Phase two of his economic reopening plan was supposed to go into effect on Tuesday, but Bukele postponed it until late July, citing significant increases in COVID-19 cases as well as deaths.
“Faced with these critical situations, we see an unfavorable outlook for proceeding with Phase Two of the Economic Reopening Plan,” Bukele's office said in a statement, per Reuters.
More than 8,800 people in the country have tested positive for the virus and 243 people have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Doctors Without Borders reports that it has seen an increase in cases where patients die before doctors are able to reach them.
“In 2019, this happened to [our teams] 11 times from January to June," Angel Sermeño, the organization's medical activity manager in El Salvador, explained. “In the same period this year, it has happened 37 times—18 times in June alone.”
An increased number of patients have also died waiting to be transferred to a hospital, and even when patients are able to make it to hospitals, they are turned away.
Additionally, the group has seen an uptick in patients with respiratory and heart problems, both of which can be induced by COVID-19.
“It is vital to improve coordination, increase the number of available beds [in health facilities] and ensure protective measures in hospitals to guarantee the safety of staff and patients ... [and] increase the response capacity of the emergency transfer services in critical cases,” Pineda said. “It is also essential to guarantee access to primary health care and improve case detection and follow-up to prevent cases from becoming serious, whether they are COVID-19 or not.”