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5th Jun 2020

Coronavirus

Romania: Inside the EU's worst healthcare, as virus hits

  • Bucharest. Romania's health care, consistently ranked as the EU's worst according to the Euro Health Consumer Index, finds itself unable to cope with the spread of the virus (Photo: andreistroe)

Facing looming medical shortages, and just 12 days into his investiture, Victor Costache last week (26 March) quit as Romania's health minister - just as the country struggles to contain the coronavirus from spreading.

Costache's decision came hours after declaring that all two million residents of Bucharest would be coronavirus tested - despite only 16,000 such tests carried out nationwide over the past month.

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  • Medics are improvising protective gear out of garbage bags, duct-taped to their feet, and face masks made out of toilet paper (Photo: Romanian TV)

Succeeded by his deputy minister, Nelu Tataru, Costache's resignation only highlights the dire situation Romania's hospitals are in.

Hundreds of doctors and nurses have been contaminated amid a lack of supplies, breach of protocols, poor management as more and more medics complain they are ill-equipped and unable to protect themselves from the virus.

"We are made to go around the hospital before getting in through the same hallway as possibly contaminated patients to make it look as if we take separate entrances. We are allowed one face mask per day, as the stock is currently running out", a staff member working in a Bucharest hospital told EUobserver

Hospital across the country turn into coronavirus hotspots, as medics are improvising protective gear out of garbage bags, duct-taped to their feet, and face masks made out of toilet paper.

Romania has already passed the 1,000 mark of coronavirus cases, and the first dozens of deaths - yet the lack of testing and local transparency makes it difficult to estimate how many people have been infected.

EU's worst healthcare

Romania's health care, consistently ranked as the EU's worst according to the Euro Health Consumer Index, finds itself unable to cope with the spread of the virus.

Romania spends less on its medical system than any other EU country, as Eurostat ranks it last with only €400 healthcare expenditure per inhabitant, way behind top performers such as Luxembourg, Sweden and Denmark, each with over €5,000 health expenditure per inhabitant each year.

One thing Romania does share with the rest of the EU is the war-like atmosphere of a state in lockdown - an eerie feeling as everything grinds to a halt.

In sharp contrast to the once-busy motorways and parks, that army has been brought onto the streets to aid police in imposing the new restrictions.

Some have voiced disapproval at the move, saying that there is no reasons to have soldiers in full combat gear, with assault weapons, on top of Humvees adding to the feeling of panic.

"They should instead be helping with delivering medical and food supplies, helping the elderly and provide a real aid to society like it happens in other countries, instead of parading around like it's a celebration for the National Day. My daughter has been having trouble sleeping and she is very anxious because of the feeling of all-out war the police and army has been imposing to neighbourhoods", senator Vlad Alexandrescu told EUobserver.

The country's lack of investment in the medical system, widespread corruption, politically-appointed hospital managers and staff shortages (as droves of doctors and nurses left to work in other European countries), severely weakened Romania's ability to deal with an emergency.

Romania is losing precious group in its fight against the coronavirus.

It remains uncertain how much the army and police presence might help to turn the tide if hospitals and medics are left without supplies and assistance.

Author bio

Cristian Gherasim is a freelance journalist contributing to EUobserver, Euronews, EU Reporter, Katoikos, Von Mises Institute, and bne IntelliNews, with a particular focus on European and regional affairs.

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