50% of public ambulances are out of service; Cuenca complains of Turi prisoner transfer; Booster shot decision is delayed; Covid-19 cases continue decline

Sep 21, 2021

The government announced Monday it will purchase 267 ambulances and repair 40 others following a report that more than half of the ambulances at the country’s public and Social Security hospitals are out of service. A study commissioned by the Ministry of Health found more than 100 non-working ambulances stored in hospital garages and in private repair shops and said that no money had been allocated in the current fiscal year for repairs or replacements.

More than 50% of the ambulances at Ecuador’s public and Social Security hospitals are not in service.

Vice President Alfredo Borrero, who has visited more than 50 public hospitals around the country since June, called the situation indefensible. “How can these ambulances save lives when they don’t run?,” he asked. “This is an egregious example of the problems faced by the public health system and one that must be addressed immediately.” He said an emergency funding authorization has been made to address the problem.

Andrés Corral, Health Ministry Undersecretary of Health Provisions, said that repairs are already underway on 30 ambulances and an evaluation is being made of 70 more. He said he hopes to have at least 40 of the units in operation by early October but said the number could be higher. He said bids are being prepared for the purchase of 267 new units and says they could be in service by the end of the year or in early 2022.

Cuenca objects to prisoner transfer
Mayor Pedro Palacios is complaining to the Interior Ministry about a weekend transfer of 40 prisoners to the Turi Rehabilitation Center in Cuenca from a prison in Ibarra. According the mayor, the prisoners are “high-risk individuals” with ties to the criminal gangs that were responsible for the riots at Turi in February.

“I want to remind the government that it made a commitment to the city following the riots that the prisoners housed at Turi would be from the southern Andean region, and not from the coast and other areas of the country that produce the most violent criminals,” Palacios wrote in his complaint. He added that President Guillermo Lasso promised in his campaign to support the agreement and keep Turi a regional facility.

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The transfer of prisoners to Cuenca from Ibarra was made Saturday night.

National prison officials said the prisoner transfer was intended to reduce overcrowding at the Ibarra facility and that the move was not permanent. They would not confirm or deny that the prisoners were in the “high risk” category or if their crimes involved drug trafficking.

On February 23, Turi was the scene of one of the most violent prison riots in the country’s history. During a two-day uprising, 34 inmates were murdered, 18 of them beheaded and dismembered.

Decision is not final for Covid boosters
The Ministry of Health said Monday that it has not made a final decision about offering Covid-19 booster shots to the general population. In a statement, the ministry said that international guidance on the issue is “mixed and confusing” and that further research is needed to determine if boosters are necessary.

The World Health Organization claims that the “science is indecisive” on the effectiveness of boosters and that all available doses should go to countries where vaccines rates are low. In the U.S., an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration came to the same conclusion on Friday although it did not oppose boosters for those with chronic diseases. Some immunologists say that if and when boosters are given, they should be newly developed vaccines targeted to the more aggressive variants of the virus.

Ecuador’s health ministry said last week that boosters would not be given until January, at the earliest.

Covid cases continue to drop
The Ministry of Health reported 23 new cases of Covid-19 over the weekend nationwide, a reflection of the continuing decline in infections. Of the new cases, 18 were in Pichincha Province, which also reported five of the six deaths recorded nationally.

The health ministry reported that the vaccination of high school students, ages 12 to 16, is underway and should be complete by mid-October. The ministry also said that Ecuador ranks first in Latin America for the percentage of the elderly and immunocompromised population, with 95 percent fully vaccinated.

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