More and more Chinese medics are dying from the coronavirus. Public-health experts say this could delay the country's fight against the outbreak.
- The director of a major hospital in Wuhan, China, died on Tuesday morning of the coronavirus that originated in the city, health authorities announced.
- Liu Zhiming's death is part of the growing number of infections among Chinese healthcare workers, who have been working in dire conditions to fight the outbreak.
- A total of seven nurses and doctors have now died, and over 1,700 have been infected by the virus
- Public-health experts told Business Insider they are not surprised by the increase in the number of infected workers, and blamed the government's slow initial reaction and a lack of medical supplies.
- Therese Hesketh, an expert on Chinese public health at University College London, says there is a high chance more workers will become infected in the coming weeks.
- This could slow down the country's fight against the virus, she said.
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One of Wuhan's most senior doctors died Tuesday after contracting the deadly novel coronavirus, adding to the number of healthcare workers who have fallen victim to the disease, and raising questions on China's ability to contain the outbreak.
Liu Zhiming, director of Wuhan's Wuchang Hospital, died at 10:54 a.m. local time after an "all-out rescue effort" failed to save him, according to an official statement by the Wuhan municipal health commission. He was 51.
The hospital is one of the main healthcare facilities in Wuhan treating patients with the virus, which is believed to have originated in a wet market in the city last December.
The virus, otherwise known as COVID-19, has since spread to 26 other countries, infecting more than 71,000 people around the world and killing at least 1,873. Most of the deaths have taken place in China.
Medical staff in China have been feeling the toll of treating patients with coronavirus, with reports that over 1,700 have so far been infected. Including Liu, a total of seven healthcare workers who have contracted the disease have now died.
Experts say growing infections aren't a surprise
Public-health experts say the increase in the number of infections among medical workers is no surprise, and warned that this could hamper China's efforts to contain the outbreak.
"When you've got a massive epidemic like this, its very difficult to control it. Especially when health workers are having to care for people with a very contagious virus on a daily basis," Therese Hesketh, an expert on Chinese public health at University College London, told Business Insider.
"Because we still don't really know enough about the exact mechanisms of transmission, there may also be ways that it's being transmitted that we still don't know about," added Hesketh.
The lack of proper medical equipment, facilities, and protective gear for medical staff could also be a reason for the rise in infections among the medical personnel.
Professor David Heymann, who led the World Health Organization's infectious diseases unit during the 2003 SARS outbreak, told Business Insider: "There have been many health workers infected and presumably, some of them are not using some of the proper infection, prevention and control measures."
"Especially at the start of an infection, when the outbreak is beginning, people might not recognize how contagious this disease can be, and the necessary measures might not be taken fast enough," he added.
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This could hamper the country's fight against coronavirus
More than 1,700 healthcare workers in Wuhan have contracted the coronavirus since its outbreak two months ago, Business Insider's Holly Secon reported. Research published earlier this month by the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that almost a third of all coronavirus patients were healthcare workers.
The number of infected doctors and nurses could continue to rise in the coming weeks, Hesketh warned.
"There will absolutely be a rise in infected medical workers," she said. "How many of them end up being seriously ill and dying is another question."
"It will presumably also slow down the fight in trying to contain the virus," Hesketh said.
The Chinese State Council's disease prevention and control units announced on Monday that they had sent more than 30,000 medical staff from across the country into Wuhan to help the overwhelmed city.
The WHO has also highlighted the need to prevent medics from getting infected.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week: "Health workers are the glue that holds the health system and outbreak response together. We need to know more about how they are getting sick."
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The initial reaction of the government put medical workers at risk
The rise in infections among workers can also be attributed to how the country initially dealt with trying to contain the virus.
Hesketh, who worked in China for nearly ten years, said: "There was a huge crush on facilities as soon as the outbreak occurred. Thousands of people turning up at these acute hospitals, spreading the virus amongst each other, with little organization in those early days."
Medics in Wuhan have in the past few weeks reported dire conditions with accounts of overcrowded hospitals, a shortage in protective gear, and even a shortage of food and drink, according to Business Insider's Lauren Frias.
Hesketh added that the country needs to do more to protect its healthcare workers.
"You currently have huge problems with large numbers of people that are being quarantined in health facilities unnecessarily," she said.
Chinese health authorities recent implemented new house-to-house checks designed to seek out and "round up" all infected patients, The Guardian reported, citing Chinese state media.
As a result, ten quarantine centers have been set up to provide an additional 11,4000 beds for people showing only mild symptoms of infection, the newspaper reported.
Hesketh thinks this only serves to slow down productivity.
"They should actually just be sent home if their symptoms are mild," she said. "They've got all the personnel there [in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located] to enforce home quarantine, which would actually really take the pressure of the health workers as well."
But the professor remains positive. "On a lighter note, you have to hand it to the Chinese for what they're doing so far. I have a colleague who has gone to volunteer in China because he believes it is his duty and wants to help as many people as possible."
"Public health is sometimes about some people making sacrifices for the good of the many. And the Chinese being Chinese, and being very autocratic, can actually do that in a way that no other country can."
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