By Sylvan Hardy
The weekend’s lockdown that begins tonight didn’t have to happen. Neither did the Monday through Friday nighttime curfews. According to several medical and public health administration experts, the new state of emergency to control the Covid-19 virus is the result of the government failure to manage the pandemic.
“What Ecuador is facing is a crisis of bad planning and negligence that could have been avoided,” says Víctor Álvarez, president of the College of Physicians of Pichincha. “What we are hearing now is that we are being overwhelmed by a surge of Covid cases when, in fact, what we have is a shortage of hospital beds and ICU capacity.”
Álvarez doesn’t deny that there is a serious problem and that measures, including curfews, are needed to control it. “I don’t deny that. I just say it didn’t need to happen,” he says.
In the early stages of the pandemic, according to Álvarez, the government said it was following the advice of the World Health Organization and health agencies in the European Union and the U.S. to prepare for the coming demand for health care services.
“In March, the health ministry agreed with the WHO that we needed more ICU capacity,” he says. “Based on their recommendation, Ecuador should have at least 5,000 critical care beds but it only has 1,050. The government announced plans to add more beds but the plans were later dropped. Obviously, the country can’t afford to add 4,000 ICU units but if it had added just a fraction of this we wouldn’t have a problem today. In fact, we probably wouldn’t even be talking about it.”
Among the plans announced by the government but not carried out, Álvarez says, were the conversion of a military base in Quito and the national sports training facility in Cuenca to handle Covid cases. “I don’t mean to oversimplify things since Ecuador is poor country and faces special challenges like the difficulty in purchasing drugs and medical supplies. We are witnessing that with the shortage of vaccines. On the other hand, there were many things that could have been done and, in fact, were promised that didn’t happen.”
Carlos Miller, an expert on health policy and a professor at San Francisco University in Quito, agrees with Álvarez. “Yes, we face a crisis today but it was avoidable. I put the blame on the Moreno government and the health ministry. Many other countries in the world, including some in Latin America, are experiencing the same Covid numbers — and much worse — that we are and they are not in crisis circumstances. They have planned ahead and have the facilities to deal with new cases.”
Miller, who has managed public and private hospitals, claims the public is getting an unrealistic view of the Covid crisis. “Today, the government is blaming the people for creating the crisis by being careless and not following health protocols but it is human nature to want relief from these measures and governments all over the world are dealing with this without shaming the population. What people don’t hear is that Ecuador has less than half the hospital capacity of Colombia and Argentina and Chile. Our case count is not the problem. A lack of foresight and planning is.”