Are the ventilators helping in saving lives?
There is much talk about medical equipment – ventilators, ICU [Intensive Care Unit] or acute care beds and PPE [Personal Protection Equipment] – as the world is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.
Europe, which is cited as a shining example of healthcare system, is exhausted and stretched to the limit with Italy recording 8,215 deaths which are most in the world so far. It is followed by Spain 4,365, France 1,696, the UK 578, the Netherlands 434 and others.
But Germany is fascinating the researchers and medical experts as the ratio of the number of infected people and deaths reported in the country is far less than others not only on the continent but also the world. As of now, the reported cases stand at 43,938 and deaths at 267.
The coronavirus cases reported in the above-mentioned other European countries are: Italy 80,589, Spain 57,786, France 29,155, the UK 11,658 and the Netherlands 7,431.
The question is: what is or are the reasons that enabled Germany to keep the death toll low? No one has been able to answer the question with any certainty as the pandemic is still unfolding, but everyone agrees to the fact that the higher availability of ICU beds, thus ventilators, has played a key part in saving precious lives.
According to available data, Germany has around 28,000 acute care beds and is planning to increase the numbers to 50,000 in the coming weeks.
Furthermore, it has 29.2 acute care beds for every 100,000 citizens – the highest in Europe. But there is a strong contrast between Germany and other European nations, as the corresponding number for Portugal is 4.2, the lowest in Europe. Even Sweden, which is known for its welfare system around the globe, has just over six beds.
When it comes to Italy, it is ranked as 10th with 12.5 beds followed France 12th (11.6), Spain 16th (9.7), the UK 24th (6.6 beds) and the Netherlands 27th (around 6.3).
But what about other China and South Korea which managed to control the coronavirus spread? There is a marked difference between the two when it comes to the dedicated beds. South Korea has 10.6 beds for every 100,000 citizens against 3.6 in China.
South Korea managed to control the virus – thus the reported cases and resultant deaths – through vigorous testing and other precautionary measures. It meant that its hospitals were not overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients, thus following the principle of precaution is better than treatment.
The total number of cases and deaths in South Korea are 9,332 and 139 respectively.
As far as China is concerned, it too followed the same principle after the initial shock. It controlled the situation albeit through tougher measures like complete lockdown for a months-long period in the Hubei province.
What about the US, which has surpassed both Italy and China with most number of coronavirus cases? The US has highest ratio of the acute care beds in the world with 34.7 beds for 100,000 beds.
The number of cases reported in there now stands at 85,594 with 1,300 deaths. But there is a strong concentration of cases and deaths in New York – 38,977 and 466 respectively.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has warned that they might need another 30,000 ventilators in two or three weeks after the pandemic peaks in the region.
Same is the case with other states like California and Louisiana, but the Trump administration is reluctant to use the Defence Production Act, which authorises the US president to order companies to produce the required items in the emergency situation.
Trump is arguing that it would be tantamount to nationalisation [which isn’t the case] and that the states should look into the matter on their own, as Washington will only act as backup.
This stance reflects the deep divide in the US society and politics, where the Republicans are against the government’s extensive role in the matters like healthcare. On the other hand, the Bernie Sanders-led wing of the Democrats stand for the slogan of “Medicare for All” while listing healthcare as a human right.