TEGUCIGALPA – The COVID-19 epidemic in Honduras continues to escalate as PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are delayed, laboratories experience equipment shortages and medical personnel from at least one public hospital stopped work when they were owed two months’ salary.
According to medical sources, between 2,000 and 3,000 PCR tests are needed each day for greater clarity about the spread of the pandemic, but that count has not been possible in a country where COVID-19 exposed an old problem, its deficient health system.
According to the state-run National Risk Management System (Sinager), whose spokesman Francis Contreras this week asked the Ministry of Health to speed up PCR tests, Honduras had registered 1,423 deaths and 45,098 cases by Wednesday.
Doctors at the forefront of the pandemic assure these figures are delayed.
The Minister of the Presidency Ebal Diaz said on Wednesday on social networks that “there are no excuses for not processing more tests” and demanded an immediate response from the National Virology Laboratory.
The president of the College of Microbiologists and Clinical Chemists of Honduras (CMQCH), Marco Moncada, said that they cannot be demanding rapid tests while the National Virology Laboratory is working without all the necessary equipment.
“How do they want us to respond if they don’t give us the conditions, the reagents and the equipment with which we have to work?” Moncada asked.
Moncada pointed out that the laboratory demands supplies, including reagents, extraction equipment and a thermal cycler, among other things.
In addition, the country only has two laboratories, one in San Pedro Sula and another in Tegucigalpa, the capital.
“We are willing to address it (the pandemic), but do not come to blame us for this situation,” Moncada said about the delay in the tests, which apparently is due to the lack of supplies and the fact that some of the equipment is under repair.
Meanwhile, the commitment of health personnel has been reflected not only in the daily work, but also in the death of about 50 of them, including doctors – several of them specialists – laboratory workers and nurses, among others.
In addition, many health personnel, such as those of the Leonardo Martinez Hospital, in San Pedro Sula, in the north of the country and the main epicenter of the pandemic, stopped work this week because the Ministry of Health owes them two months’ salary, according to their complaint.
The Minister of Health, Alba Consuelo Flores, acknowledged that salaries are owed and said that a solution is being sought.
On Wednesday, Flores asked that they return because they are needed, especially now amid fears that many new cases of COVID-19 will emerge.
The director of the Leonardo Martinez Hospital, Jose Medina, also asked medical staff to return to care for patients and warned that, with the economic reopening, which began last week, there will be more COVID-19 infections.
The reopening of economic activity in the country has been slow in many sectors, such as shopping centers, where few businesses are open, while micro entrepreneurs seek to survive with innovations.
Sonia Dubon, who was working in a modest seafood restaurant with her husband Walter Caceres in Tegucigalpa’s El Hogar neighborhood, has put aside her kitchen utensils to dedicate herself to the sale of fruits and vegetables, since the first business collapsed due to the pandemic.
Sonia told EFE that the restaurant is a family business, with her husband and their two children. They have had it for 10 years, with a clientele that, although not huge, had been enough for them to live without trouble.
She added that the restaurant has been closed for almost five months and that they have recently started selling take out.
“The economy has dropped and debts have increased; so, because of that, we improvised. We decided then to sell fruits and vegetables, and thank God it is working. I think that now it’s what is being sold the most,” she said.
The few clients of the Island Sea Food restaurant, in a small blue wooden house in the shade of an almond tree, order what they want over the phone and then come to pick it up.
Sonia said that her husband worked for about 20 years in restaurants on the paradise-like island of Roatan, in the Honduran Caribbean, where he learned the art of cooking which has helped them become independent.
“He is the chef, I am the cook, and our two children help us,” said Sonia, who along with her husband is originally from the Caribbean city of La Ceiba.
Santos Efrain Pineda, 47, took a short break from his job of 30 years, selling fruits and vegetables in a wheelbarrow, for which he gives “thanks to God.”
Santos Efrain told EFE that he lives in the Las Mercedes neighborhood and that he works every day from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, with “bad days” in which “nothing is sold,” and “good days” in which he can earn up to 300 lempiras (about $12), with which he has always survived.