After coming down with COVID-19 in December, Vinicio Sánchez visited three health centres in a single day.
At the first, a clinic in the south of Ecuadorian capital, Quito, he was told he needed oxygen but they had none left to give him. He was referred to a specialist COVID-19 centre in the north of the city, where he was fitted with an oxygen mask. As his symptoms worsened, Sánchez needed a ventilator, but the centre didn’t have the right equipment to intubate him. Transferred to a third hospital further north, he remained there for eight days until his death on Christmas Eve.
Sánchez’s wife, Mery Zapata Morales, blames his death on this dysfunctional response. “He had to go to three health centres,” she told The New Humanitarian by phone, speaking through tears. “I think this has a lot to do with the process of whether he got better or not.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ecuador’s state-run public hospitals have reported massive shortages in everything from face masks to oxygen tanks to medications – doctors say this has severely disrupted patient care and led to unnecessary deaths.
“This contributes to increased mortality and frustration, because you have professionals who know what they need to do – they know the protocol – but they don’t have anything to work with,” said epidemiologist and health economics expert Rodrigo Henríquez-Trujillo.
As in many other Latin American countries, corruption is partly to blame, and Henríquez-Trujillo believes many deaths could have been avoided had there been better governance.