By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER Health Minister Dr Duane Sands says the public healthcare system is far from being “back to normal” despite declining COVID-19 infections, citing strained resources and a “phenomenal” backlog of cases involving people seeking non-COVID related care.
In an interview with The Tribune yesterday, Dr Sands underscored the impact the virus has had on public health even as the nation’s fourth wave appears to be weakening.
“There is no part of the healthcare system that’s back to normal. None. Whether you’re talking about public institutions or private institutions, we continue to be seriously challenged by COVID,” Dr Sands said.
“It has impacted staffing levels, ICU nurses in particular, there’s bed limitations and we have had to change our protocols in terms of how patients get into the hospital and it has made it very, very challenging to provide care to everyone. So, we have accumulated what I believe to be a huge backlog of cases and that’s for non-COVID care.”
The senior physician said due to limited resources, some patients with non-COVID related illnesses are forced to wait days in order to be admitted to the hospital.
“I had a not-so-young patient with a chest problem and it took me almost four days in order to get her in the hospital and in order to treat her in what was a potentially life-threatening chest problem because of the impact of COVID,” he said.
“So, bed availability is less, the patients require testing to be done at the right interval and that has to be verified and then it changes how you approach the patients. I don’t know when we’re going to get back to normal, but understand that there has been a phenomenal backlog related to COVID made worse by the structural challenges facing our healthcare system to begin with and when you put them all together you have a perfect storm.”
Health officials recorded 93 new cases over a three-day period between Thursday and Saturday last week.
This pushed the nation’s total confirmed count to 32,773 since the start of the pandemic.
There are also now 753 related deaths while 69 people are currently in hospital with the virus, three of whom are still in the intensive care unit.
While calling the drop in virus numbers a “good” sign, Dr Sands said it is still too early to tell whether the country is nearing the end of its fourth wave.
However, he urged Bahamians not to become too optimistic or lower their guards as the COVID-19 situation in the country still remains very fluid.
He said: “I think that there are some hopeful signs that the number of cases is declining but if you were to look at the number of cases over the last four weeks, it has only been one week that the total number of cases confirmed by PCR in The Bahamas was less than the highest number of cases in the third wave.
“If you go back and look at the numbers, we would have peaked at 900 cases a week during the third wave. Last week, we had 1,200 cases. The week before that, 2,200 cases. The week before those was 3,000 cases. So, it’s only been one week where we have had confirmed cases less than the highest level during the third wave.
“In addition, we continue to have a significant number of people hospitalised and. . we’re still getting double digit cases. I believe we are all hopeful but let us not get in front of ourselves...and I don’t know if there’s another wave coming but certainly there’s a possibility that there will be if we have another variant.”
The apparent downward trend in cases comes as vaccine uptake wanes in the country.
Dr Sands called the situation concerning and stressed vaccinations still remain the most effective tool in the fight against COVID-19.
“The concerning thing however is that we seem to have reduced our resolve to get our people vaccinated,” he said. “I have heard the arguments back and forth but there is a very well written study in New York that looked at the experience of Omicron and that study basically showed that notwithstanding what people think is Omicron being mild or what have you that the city data showed that among the cases in New York City, the death rate among the unvaccinated was 17 times higher than it was among those who are vaccinated.
“So, vaccination remains an effective tool for preventing hospitalisation and death. We don’t know what variants are coming so let us be very, very cautious and very, very careful. We can be hopeful that this thing is heading in the right direction, but we don’t know for sure.”
Last week, the Pan American Health Organization told reporters during its weekly media briefing that the agency was working with various health ministers in the Caribbean to “develop a comprehensive strategy” to address vaccine hesitancy.
According to official data, 159,839 people have been fully vaccinated as of February 5.