Rome Italy – As coronavirus cases jump and deaths rise in Italy, the new figures show a "huge,quot; level of contagion among the country's medical personnel.
At least 2,629 health workers have been infected with the coronavirus since the outbreak began in February, accounting for more than eight percent of total cases, according to a report published Wednesday by Gruppo Italiano for Basata sulle Evidenze Medicine o GIMBE – Italian Group for Evidence based on medicine.
The data has sent shock waves through the country's already tense health system.
"We extracted this number from the data provided by the National Institute of Health," GIMBE director Nino Cartabellotta, a public health expert, told Al Jazeera.
"Figures on contagion among doctors, nurses, and health professionals in general began to be released only on March 11. Since then, hundreds of new cases have been recorded daily. But front-line medical staff should be the first to be protected. "
Cartabellotta said the actual number is likely higher because health workers are not always screened and protective measures in hospitals are inadequate.
Many of those who tend to coronavirus patients still only wear surgical masks without adequate protective filters to protect them from contagion.
The percentage of healthcare workers infected in Italy is almost double the number recorded during the epidemic in China, where more than 3,200 have died.
According to figures published in the JAMA Network Open, an online medical site of the Journal of the American Medical Association, infected medical personnel in China accounted for 3.8 percent of total cases, with just five deaths.
More than 60 percent of infected medical personnel were registered in the epicenter outbreak, Wuhan.
Italy is the most affected country after China.
On Wednesday, Italy announced that in the past 24 hours, the number of deaths increased from 475 to 2,978, an increase of 19 percent, as cases increased to a total of 35,713.
There are no official figures on the number of medical personnel who died of coronavirus in Italy.
According to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, a general practitioner in the province of Lodi died on Wednesday. This brought the number of deaths of family doctors in the area to four. Other regions have also reported losses among medical personnel.
Lack of equipment, resources and personnel has put pressure on Italy's health system.
Italy does not produce masks. With the spread of the pandemic, some of its closest neighbors have been reluctant to export the supplies they may need soon.
"The problem right now is the supply of the protective equipment," Cartabellotta said. "The government should have thought about this some time ago. It stands to reason that after the global outbreak of the pandemic, countries producing masks and other protective devices now keep them to themselves and stop exporting."
"We already have a limited number of doctors and nurses. In extreme circumstances, we might even ask them to continue working even if (they) tested positive for the coronavirus. Still, they should be equipped with protective devices to prevent the spread of the virus." "
An emergency decree presented by the government on Monday allocated 3.5 billion euros ($ 3.8 billion) to the troubled health system.
"We are importing medical personnel from abroad and launching new, unlicensed young healthcare professionals into the fray," said Cartabellotta. "If we do not provide them with adequate protection, it will end as in a war in which soldiers do not die while fighting on the battlefield, but because of a lack of equipment. The more medical personnel are infected, the less responsive they will be. of the health system. "
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