GP Insights

GP Insights # 309, 29 March 2020

4000 and counting: Spain observes a spike in death rates
Harini Madhusudan

What happened?
After Italy and China, Spain registered a death toll of 4,089 with 769 deaths on 27 March 2020, Spain has the fourth-highest number of infected cases. In Madrid, the worst affected region, an ice-rink was converted into a morgue and the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, the home ground of Real Madrid, would be used for the storage of medical supplies. As of 28 March 2020, the number of cases is at 56,188 in Spain, and the percentage of rising is at 18 per cent, a relatively slower rate compared to the previous week. 

The slowing rate of cases could indicate the beginning of a stabilization phase, but the challenges that the outbreak brought up globally, is reflected in Spain too. There is an alarming need for space to bury the dead, to treat the affected; a shortage of protective equipment. There is a global war to get hold of ventilators, face masks, and quick test kits; countries are struggling to get supplies. Spain is known to have ordered 432 million euros worth of goods from China. 

What is the background?
Spain declared a national emergency on 14 March 2020. Spain observed a skyrocketing number of cases in the two weeks after. One of the primary reasons given by the media in Spain is the public health service’s depleted resources for dealing with the volume of the outbreak. Compared to eight per cent in Italy, Spain has 16.5 per cent of its health workers affected by the outbreak. Health workers are battling with the government demanding for protective equipment, something they had to fight for even during the Ebola outbreak in 2014. 

Two important factors have driven the rise in numbers in Spain. First, hospitals and medical services in Spain are known to be run by different autonomous regions, thus have underlying inequalities in terms of equipment and services. Second, with a large and vulnerable elderly population, Spanish homes and retirement homes do not have medical resources for the numbers that are showing up. 

What does it mean?
Europe has failed in early detection and meeting the consequent demand for medical supplies. Spain has extended the emergency to 12 April 2020, while reflecting the need for more robust lockdown measures. Since the pandemic is yet to peak, it seems like the medical industry is not in a place to deal with it alone. The death rate in Spain is at 8 per cent, which is beyond the global average. 


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