‘No one’s looking out for us’: Mexico medical workers beg for PPE

For three years, Patricia* has trained to be a surgeon at a Mexico City hospital where there is a chronic lack of surgical equipment. Each winter when supplies dwindle, she and fellow medical residents organise a stockpile of masks and gloves to tide them over until the new fiscal year. But in 2020 the new supplies never arrived.

“It was a streak of ‘there’s nothing, there’s nothing, there’s nothing’,” Patricia said. Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit.

For three years, Patricia* has trained to be a surgeon at a Mexico City hospital where there is a chronic lack of surgical equipment. Each winter when supplies dwindle, she and fellow medical residents organise a stockpile of masks and gloves to tide them over until the new fiscal year. But in 2020 the new supplies never arrived.

“It was a streak of ‘there’s nothing, there’s nothing, there’s nothing’,” Patricia said. Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit.

As of Wednesday night, Mexico’s health department had reported 1,732 deaths from COVID-19 and nearly 18,000 cases, though authorities say the actual numbers are far higher. At least 15 percent of confirmed cases were employees of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), which provides health services to nearly half of the country’s population. Thousands of other health workers are quarantined with COVID-19 symptoms as the country faces a severe personnel shortage.

The battle for PPE

As authorities expect the pandemic to peak in Mexico in the second week of May, health workers are taking stronger actions to call for equipment to keep themselves safe. This month a union representing some 5,000 IMSS employees threatened to strike work if authorities failed to provide its members with PPE. The leader of the union, Armando Rosales Torres, also promised to sue the state for negligence.

The government, however, insists there is no equipment shortage. Mexico’s coronavirus czar, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, said shipments arriving in April from Shanghai to Mexico City would meet “practically 100 percent” of Mexico’s PPE needs. The epidemiologist speculated that any scarcity in hospitals was due to corrupt supply chains or staff’s inadequate use of equipment.

On April 8, Diana*, an IMSS anesthesiologist in the southern city of Oaxaca, obtained a court order forcing the health department to provide her with PPE. But even then she says her hospital was unable to comply with the judge’s ruling. “When we won the injunction we were given a laughable amount of equipment,” said Diana, whose real name is withheld; “a pair of glasses that don’t fit, a pair of disposable gloves that can only be used for one patient, and a sterile disposable gown that isn’t waterproof”.

Diana decided to buy her own PPE since she intubates patients – a procedure with a high risk of contagion. So far she has spent nearly $300 on reusable gear, plus $500 this month alone on disposable items like gloves, gowns and N95 respirators – practically her entire paycheque.

 

Related Articles

Back to top button