Senegal hospitals turn away Covid-19 patients amid a shortage of beds
Dakar — Senegal is racing to provide more hospital beds for coronavirus patients as infections soar and a lack of capacity means doctors are only able to admit the most severe cases, according to health officials.
A second wave of new infections and deaths hit record highs in January, forcing President Macky Sall to reimpose a state of emergency that bans gatherings and enforces mask wearing.
Doctors hope that will buy authorities enough time to install new facilities and reopen health centres that were active during the first wave in 2020 but were shuttered as cases dropped.
“The cases are rising faster than the number of beds, so we are experiencing a moment of tension,” said Moussa Seydi, who runs Senegal's Covid-19 response. A loosening of coronavirus prevention measures in recent months has contributed to the increased caseload, he said.
Low testing levels had allowed the pandemic to unfold across the West African country largely undetected, and its younger population meant that there was not the kind of carnage seen in Europe or the US. According to Reuters data, it has recorded 21,245 infections and 465 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
But now a sharp rise in cases threatens to overwhelm the health system that lacks the resources of wealthier nations.
Senegal is awaiting vaccines through the World Health Organisation-backed global Covax scheme. This programme is helping to finance deliveries to 92 developing nations with limited or no means to buy vaccines on their own.
But it does not have the capacity to store vials at sub-zero temperatures, limiting its vaccine options and putting the onus on prevention and front-line care.
Inside Dakar's Fann Hospital, a quiet medical complex fenced off from busy surrounding thoroughfares, all the intensive care beds are occupied. In a single-storey isolation unit, Covid-19 patients in sparse rooms are aided by oxygen tanks and a small team of doctors and nurses in full protective gear.
“Sometimes there is fear, there is panic,” said nurse Ndeye Diagne. “We are more concerned for our families than ourselves because ... once we are home we are afraid to infect our families, our children.”
Nearby, a multistorey clinic with 70 rooms has been built and in March will start receiving Covid-19 patients in a ward with an air purifying system and ventilators.
In all, the country has more than 40 treatment centres, 60 intensive care beds and 300 health workers trained to deal with Covid-19 patients.
One of the trials will be to persuade Senegal's youth to stick to the new rules. Protests broke out across Dakar when Sall announced a curfew last week.
“We all must do everything to be a bulwark against the spread of the virus and not a springboard,” Seydi said. “The end of the tunnel should not be too far.”
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