Sunday, April 12, 2020


Our collective preoccupation with the procurement and stockpiling of ventilators during this pandemic has been compared to the more individual obsession with the buying and hoarding of bog rolls. 

And it’s not hard to see why, for neither offers a properly satisfactory solution to the problem at hand. 

Ventilators were developed for clinical use in situations where a patient is temporarily unable to operate their own pumps. 

A weakened diaphragm can cause this crisis for example, as can conditions within the lungs themselves, such as bacterial pneumonia or even asthma. Air containing oxygen is forced in while the underlying problem is treated with meds and, ideally, reduced. 

Yet with covid-19 there is no pharmaceutical cure. In the most critical cases it eliminates the lung cells’ capacity to absorb oxygen and transfer it to the blood stream, to the point that no amount of air being forced in by a machine will make a difference. 

This is why (in the developed world) around 60% of patients being put on a ventilator as a result of advanced covid-19 symptoms are dying, and we lack the data to tell us if survivors might have recovered anyway, because it would be very hard to conduct a proper clinical test in an ethical fashion. 

There are reports from hospitals in New York that although the procedure of inserting the tube poses additional risks of infection to the personnel involved, the patient, once on the ventilator, poses a reduced contagion risk overall at the hospital. And so some patients are being tubed up sooner than they might otherwise have been. 

So, when the likes of Al Rojo Vivo mock Guatemala for having 100 ventilators to cover a population of maybe 15m, this really isn’t the worst of our problems. 

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