Colombian healthcare workers risking life with COVID-19 on International Nurses Day


As the global community marks International Nurses Day on March 12, the profession and healthcare providers are facing their greatest threat with the coronavirus pandemic.

In opening remarks from the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, the organization’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recognized his honorary position as a nurse and highlighted the incredible efforts of frontline workers in saving lives from a disease that “has exposed the uneven distribution of life-saving medical equipment across the world.”

With more than four million infected and death toll close to 300,000, nurses working in countries with limited or strained healthcare facilities, are a testimony of courage and dedication, many risking their lives each day without personal protection equipment. Joining the chorus of solidarity, Pope Francis remarked in a message to commemorate the Day that nurses are “guardians and preservers of life, who, even as they administer necessary treatments, offer courage, hope and trust.”

As Colombia confronts the pandemic with 12,272 cases and 493 fatalities, the nation’s nurses and doctors are exposed to COVID-19 with friends and colleagues losing their lives in the line of duty. On Monday, Bogotá’s Health Secretariat announced the death of Miguel Barragán, a general practitioner at CAPS Chircales, from COVID-19.

The first frontline doctor in Colombia to die from the disease was Carlos Fabián Nieto on April 11 at the Clinica Colombia in Bogotá.

Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on March 6 in the country, nine medical professionals have died, four of which were doctors, two nurses, two drivers, and one administrative staff member.

According to the National Institute of Health (INS), the number of healthcare providers infected with the disease is 678, 527 of whom got coronavirus at their place of work; and of the total infected 227 are auxiliary nurses, 100 nurses and 146 doctors, among other personnel.

Bogotá has been at the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus cases for more than two months with clusters in Cali and Villavicencio reporting occasionally more than the capital. During the last week, the contagion has impacted Leticia, the departmental capital of Amazonas and a city of 60,000 that shares land and water borders with Brazil and Peru.

The health emergency in Leticia is acute given its remote location at the southeastern tip of the Colombian Amazon without roads to the interior and dependent on air supplies of medical equipment. Home to a majority indigenous population, COVID-19 is threatening many communities along the Amazon River, where transporting the sick entails traveling great distances by canoe or by speed boat in order to reach a clinic.

As of Tuesday, 743 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Amazonas, 90 of which are inside Leticia’s municipal prison. In a radio interview from Leticia for RCN, family doctor Carlos Vargas warned that if cases of the disease continue to rise at the current epidemiological rate the health system could collapse. “We have fought valiantly with a team of practitioners, nurses and auxiliaries, but if demand for medical providers continues, we will be insufficiently staffed,” he said.


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