Virus stretches limits of strained public health systems

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Chinatopix

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2020, file photo, a worker walks among beds in a convention center that has been converted into a temporary hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. The virus outbreak that began in China and has spread to more than 20 countries is stretching already-strained public health systems in Asia and beyond, raising questions over whether everyone can get equal access to treatment. (Chinatopix via AP, File)

BANGKOK – The virus outbreak that began in China and has spread to more than 20 countries is stretching already-strained public health systems in Asia and beyond, raising questions over whether everyone can get equal access to treatment.

Authorities in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, have been ordered to confine people suspected of having the illness in “quarantine camps" reminiscent of makeshift hospitals seen a century ago during the outbreak of Spanish flu.

The hundreds of cots lined up side by side in such facilities illustrate the Everest-sized difficulties of isolating and treating thousands of patients at a time. So do scenes of people begging for treatment and being turned away from hospitals inundated with patients.

Rong Qin, who lives with her newborn son and 3-year-old daughter, mother, father and husband in a two-bedroom apartment in Wuhan, appealed for help in a post on Weibo, a Chinese microblog, saying she and her father were infected and she was worried for the rest of the family.

“I was told that even if we have confirmation of infection from the hospital we have to wait for beds. As far as I know, there are already many people queuing up for help," she said.

The problems most evident in Wuhan are a worrying specter for health officials in many other places, as the numbers of people infected has surpassed 40,000 with more than 1,000 dead. Officials are trying to reassure the public, while moving to ensure adequate supplies of drugs and other medical necessities.

Several countries outside China that have big caseloads, such as Japan, France and the U.S., have relatively ample resources for isolating and treating patients. Lower-income countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Cambodia have reported one case each.

At a meeting of the World Health Organization in Geneva last week, delegates from various countries including Sudan and Bangladesh sought reassurances of support for their overburdened public health networks.