Dakar, Senegal (AP) — Paramedics receive an emergency call at 10:30 pm. A 25-year-old woman who is 8 months pregnant and may be suffering from COVID-19 has serious breathing problems.
Yahya Niane grabs two small oxygen cylinders and heads to the ambulance with the team. Upon arrival, they find a young woman’s worried father waving an envelope in front of her mouth. And a desperate effort to send more air to her way.
Her situation is miserable. Niane says that in order for Slap Ba to save her and her baby, she needs to undergo a Caesarean section immediately. But first they have to find a hospital where they can take her.
“All hospitals in Dakar are full, so finding a place for people with breathing problems is very difficult,” he says.
This is a very common scenario as Senegal faces a rapid increase in confirmed cases of coronavirus. Instead of motorcycle accidents and heart attacks, the majority of ambulance calls in the capital are now COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Abdullah Wade, Head of Regulatory Department at SAMU, Senegal’s Emergency Medical Services, said: “There were several times in the first wave and several times in the second wave, but since the start of the third wave, 90% of the calls have been for dyspnea.”
In the first year of the pandemic, Senegal was often cited as a success story in Africa. After quickly closing the border between the country’s airport and land, President Macky Sall mandated wearing a mask and temporarily suspended travel between regions.
But the Delta variant changed that all. While 16 million countries have received more than 500,000 AstraZeneca vaccines through a UN-backed COVAX initiative, demand is currently outpacing supply and many are waiting for a second dose.
Hospital beds are also scarce, and patients with COVID-19 are debilitated at home while waiting for a spot or until the condition worsens.
“Currently, there is a flood of phones, a flood of patients, and few places available,” said Dr. Mouhamed Lamine Dieng, who works at an emergency service management center trying to triage and deploy patients.
“The main challenge for the team is to find the right place to save people before they die,” he said.
A young pregnant woman, Slap Ba, eventually won the spot due to a sharp drop in oxygen levels. Doctors estimated that by the time she got there, 50% of her lungs had been affected by the virus.
The doctor delivered her baby girl in time for a Caesarean section. However, four days later, the mother continues to provide oxygen support in the intensive care unit while hospital workers take care of the newborn.
“Some people thought that COVID didn’t exist,” said baby’s grandfather Jiba Ba.
“This is because some people deny their presence on social media networks and television channels,” he said. “I swear that COVID is genuine and anyone who refuses to be vaccinated should be punished.”
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Senegalese ambulance team struggles in the waves of COVID-19 | WGN Radio 720
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