By EDNA TARIGAN, Associated Press
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Irman Pahlepi is back to work at Dr. Suyoto Public Hospital in Jakarta, immediately resuming his duties of treating COVID-19 patients after recovering from an infection himself – for the second time.
With the number of infections in Indonesia skyrocketing and deaths steadily rising, health workers are running out as the virus spares no one, Pahlepi, 30, said he had no no choice but to come back immediately.
“We have so many more patients to treat than last year,” he said. “The number of COVID-19 patients is four times higher now than during the previous highest peak in January. “
Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, experienced its deadliest day with 2,069 deaths from COVID-19 last Tuesday and the death toll remains high. As of Sunday, the total number of official cases stood at more than 3.4 million with 97,291 deaths, although with poor testing and many people dying at home the actual numbers would be considerably higher.
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As the region grapples with a new wave of coronavirus fueled by the delta variant, Indonesia’s death rate hit a 7-day moving average of 6.5 per million on August 1, just behind Myanmar and well above at the peak rate of 3.04 in India that he reached. in May at the height of its epidemic.
Among the dead in Indonesia are more than 1,200 health workers, including 598 doctors, according to the risk mitigation team of the Indonesian Medical Association. The doctors included at least 24 who were fully vaccinated.
Many more are exhausted from the workload, said Mahesa Paranadipa, who co-leads the mitigation team, making them more likely to fall ill, like Pahlepi.
“We are concerned about overloaded workloads that last for a long time, causing potential burnout conditions,” Paranadipa said. “This fatigue leads to a decrease in the immunity of healthcare workers. “
Recognizing the risks facing health workers, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Monday that a top priority was to give them a third dose of the booster vaccine. Most of those vaccinated have received Sinovac, which appears to be less effective against the delta variant, and Indonesia has already started giving boosters.
“The boosters, from Moderna, are for healthcare workers… so they’ll be ready for hospital patients,” Sadikin said.
In addition to the lack of medical personnel, Indonesia also suffers from an insufficient supply.
Pahlepi said his hospital suffers from oxygen shortages and is filled far beyond its capacity with patients, making it even more difficult to treat people properly.
Over the past two months, it has become common to see dozens of people with severe symptoms lining up for a bed in the hospital emergency unit, and more queues of people waiting for a place in the hospital. isolation ward after treatment, he said.
Some patients brought their own oxygen cylinders with them, and as hospital supplies dwindled, doctors and nurses had to ask them to share with others.
Most of the critically ill patients Pahlepi saw last year were elderly. Now, as the delta variant spreads across the country, most patients arriving at the emergency room with moderate and severe symptoms are children and young adults, he said.
Between his own coronavirus infections, Pahlepi and his wife had their first child – a daughter who is now 5 months old – and he said it was especially difficult as a new dad to see so many children admitted for treatment with relatively severe symptoms.
“It is difficult to help infants put on an oxygen hose because they feel uncomfortable when an unfamiliar object is on their face. They need their parents to be with them when we put the hose on, ”Pahlepi said.
“These infants remind me of my little girl at home. This makes me sad.”
Pahlepi has been involved in the treatment of coronavirus patients since the start of the pandemic, starting as a COVID-19 admitting doctor at Gatot Soebroto Army Central Hospital, which has been appointed by the government as referral hospital for the disease.
In November, he himself tested positive despite his precautions. Fortunately, his case was mild and he was able to return to work after recovering in isolation for two weeks.
He tested positive again on July 14 while working extra shifts to help cope with the influx of patients during the recent surge – just a week before he received his first vaccine.
While he was asymptomatic the first time he was infected, he had a severe headache and his bones ached the second.
Like many of his patients, he decided to isolate himself at home. But unlike most, with his training he was able to keep a close eye on his health, making sure that his blood oxygen level was adequate and that he did not need more advanced treatment.
“There are so many people with more severe symptoms who deserve hospital beds more than I do,” Pahlepi said in a video interview while in isolation.
As soon as he recovered, Pahlepi returned directly to help his overworked colleagues.
“The emergency unit was full and we were overwhelmed with dealing with COVID-19 patients,” he said. “The number of patients exceeds our capacity. We need to use 200-300% of our energy every shift.
While there is no end in sight for the current wave in Indonesia, Pahlepi’s thoughts are regularly turned to when life returns to normal for his young family and the rest of the country.
“I feel tired – exhausted – but we have to keep our spirits up for Indonesia to successfully break free from COVID-19,” he said.
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