Wealthy Russians are hoarding ventilators, leaving the country facing inevitable shortages, a respiratory specialist has told Sky News.
Vasiliy Shtabnitskiy said there was a lot of “bias and distortion” in Russia’s healthcare system and he cast doubt on the government’s claim it has 40,000 ventilators to treat coronavirus patients.
He cautioned that the figure – which is a much higher baseline than the UK’s roughly 9,000 – could be an “over or under-estimate”.
Countries across the world are trying to buy or produce ventilators, which are essential machines to provide oxygen for patients suffering lung failure in severe COVID-19 cases.
Mr Shtabnitskiy, a Moscow-based medical specialist known as a pulmonologist, said he was aware of rich residents in Russia’s capital buying up and hoarding ventilators.
“Yes, I know such examples,” he told Sky News’.
“I understand people are scared but I must remind them that they also need to have highly pressured oxygen and air, a special bed, monitoring, infusion pumps, suction device, catheters, infusion solutions and vasoactive agents – essentially a bedside laboratory.”
The machines need at least two or three intensive care unit doctors, and additional nurses and medical staff – making it “impossible to create a private ICU in a bedroom or in the office”, he warned.
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There is an opportunity for wealthy people to help during the pandemic, Mr Shtabnitskiy added.
“Rich people could invest in healthcare, in hospitals, in staff,” he said.
“I know that many philanthropists are spending their money or creating funds for US, British or European hospitals.
“Perhaps this epidemic could start a similar tradition in our own country.”
Mr Shtabnitskiy also said “we don’t know exactly how many ventilators we have”.
He suggested the reason Russia has more than Western countries is “because of the Soviet system of healthcare”, which “had a lot of hospitals and the system relied more on hospitals than outpatient services”.
“I doubt that 40,000 ventilators are enough and many of them are being used by non-COVID patients which means we will have a shortage of ventilators anyway,” Mr Shtabnitskiy explained.
“So innovations will take place again in our intensive care.”
The number of people Russia said were infected with COVID-19 in the country was 6,343 as of Monday, with the vast majority – 4,484 – in Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered most citizens to stay off work until the end of April as part of a partial economic shutdown to curb the spread of the virus.
He said some essential industries will keep operating, and grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open.