Opinion

In Romania, nobody claps for doctors

As this article was being written, Romania’s death toll from the novel coronavirus stood at 133, easily surpassing Ukraine’s 27 victims, Hungary’s 32, Poland’s 71 or the Czech Republic’s 56, despite comparable numbers of infections in the latter two countries.

Unlike those in Italy, Spain or New York, hospitals are not overcrowded – so why is Romania seeing more than double the number of deaths than its neighbours?

It’s because another plague stalks the country, joining hands with the coronavirus. That plague is corruption, and unlike Covid-19, it is anything but new. Corruption has long been festering in Romania, and hospitals are hotbeds of infection, something which has become ever more clear during the current pandemic.

An unhealthy practice

On February 26, Romania confirmed its first case of Covid-19. Three days later, the general manager of the emergency hospital in the northwestern town of Baia Mare, Sorina Pintea, was arrested. A former minister of health, Pintea was accused of taking a bribe of 35,000 euros in connection with renovation works carried out in the hospital she managed.

On hearing news of the arrest, Romanians collectively nodded, unsurprised. Corruption in the medical field is nothing new. Almost exactly a year ago, in an initiative that did anything but age well, Pintea – then the country’s health minister in a government led by the notoriously corrupt PSD – announced a new anti-bribery campaign targeting Romanian hospitals after a series of corruption scandals rocked the health system.

Working under politically-appointed cronies in an under-financed sector, many Romanian doctors are known to either directly ask for money from patients or their families, or to require patients to purchase their own medicine and the equipment needed for their care. Others direct patients who can pay towards the private clinics in which they work, an indirect form of bribery.

Corruption and infection

Ask anyone who has had the misfortune to spend any time in a state hospital in Romania, and they will admit that it is a lottery, even if you factor in the bribes. The prize in this lottery is adequate medical assistance and the avoidance of nosocomial – hospital-borne – infections.

The lottery is rigged against the patient. In 2016, a scandal revealed that a Romanian disinfectant manufacturer, HexiPharma, had been diluting the products that it sold to state hospitals up to two thousand times, reaping massive profits and causing medical equipment everywhere to be sprayed with little more than water. Unsurprisingly, four years later a survey revealed that 60 per cent of Romanians had little or no confidence in state hospitals.

Such is the environment that the novel coronavirus found in Romania, and its spread only further highlights the failings of a corrupt and politicised medical system.

In the northeastern county of Suceava, the most infected part of the country, prosecutors uncovered that officials managing the county hospital, in tandem with the directory of public health, preferentially tested certain individuals even if that meant hospital workers and caregivers in direct contact with infected patients went untested. Suceava currently accounts for 27 per cent of all Covid-19 infections in Romania and for many of the deaths caused by the virus. The entire region has been quarantined and its main hospital placed under military administration.

Rotten at the top

Suceava is not an exception, but the first broken link of a corroded chain.

Romania’s forty-two regional directorates for public health – one for every county – serve as the front line in the battle against Covid-19, running epidemiological investigations to track down those infected and those with whom they have had contact so as to prevent further contamination of the population. Moreover, the same institutions decide who and when gets tested and handle quarantined individuals.

But it is these directorates that have repeatedly shown themselves to be the main weakness in Romania’s current efforts to counter the pandemic, with poor management of resources, faulty communication, a lack of transparency and the endangerment of medical professionals who were forced by their superiors to work without the necessary equipment.

Appointed by whoever was and is in power, as many as 60 per cent of the people running the directorates obtained their jobs without going through a competitive, transparent application process. Almost half have no medical background whatsoever.

No one claps for doctors here

Other nations clap for their doctors, but Romanians do not. It would be too much like clapping for the indifferent accomplices of a system that was deadly even before the coronavirus pandemic. Accomplices who are now quitting or “retiring” en masse so as to avoid the consequences of an environment they know to be non-sterile, equipment they know to be faulty, disinfectant they know to be little more than tap water, colleagues they know to have obtained their degrees from the shady private colleges that abound in Romania, and managers they know to be politruks.

Combined with a testing capacity limited to around 2,000 tests a day nationwide, the medical realities in Romania mean that half of those who died of Covid-19 up to March 31 were diagnosed with the virus after their death or the day they died.

So bad are things in Romania that the dying cannot even be sure that they are dying of Covid-19. They can at least by certain that they are dying of corruption.

About the author

Radu Dumitrescu

Radu Dumitrescu

Radu George Dumitrescu is the former editor-in-chief of The New Federalist and currently a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Bucharest.

12 Comments

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  • Sad, very sad Mr. (future Dr.) Dumitrescu, to write suchan article anout your fellow citizens. While i find half your article to present things subjectively, the other half seems to be written by someone with deep personal frustrations against something specific that might have happened in their past related to the medical system in Romania. I am myself frustrated and mad at myself because i gave up fighting with a corupted system and decided to leave the country as an easy way “out”, but i would never call the medical staff that work in the current condition and with the current risk in Romania these days “indifferent accomplices”. “Indifferent accomplices” are all the romanians that kept voting thiefs to lead them for 30 years for a bag of flour and 1 litre of oil, or the young people that decided that it was better to go in the park than go voting, because the weather was nice… Not the medical stuff or the teachers that worked in an underpaid, understaffed system for so many years and now they are asked to go into a war without weapons. I would like to see you write an article without a pen (or a laptop)

  • Corruption in Romania is partially due to EU incoherent cooperation. They gave Romania € billions enough to build 10 Romanias but never monitored it. They , EU , barely if ever helped Romania to grow at all levels. They keep it this way & then go make fun of Romanians ; is that fair ? Romanian doctors cried out for equipment & help & EU gave 1 € billion ? EU needs to organize Romania , Romanians need to be honest & loyal & make laws that make sense.

  • The President and Romanian Government had ignored too long the warnings about Corona.. The procurement orders for Protection Equipment, testing kits and specific medicines was initiated Mid – March.. Of course, only very small quantities received to date (there is a long line of countries that ordered in Dec and Ianuary and Febvruary) , and the doctors and nurses were forced (under the threat of dismissal) to work without any Protection.. The result has been that close to 600 (tested) medical professionals are ill or positive, patients infected, no medicines to treat moderate cases .. who are then colapsing in severe forms of the disease. The Politicians are in need of a scapegoat for their incompompetence.. and the Medics amd paramedics, sent to the “fight without protection, testing and medicines are the now denigrated mainly bu Governmental propaganda.. In Romania, it is exactly like a general send the soldiers to fight witout munition or guns, without shoes, and hungry.. And then blame them to be dead, dezertors or losing the fight. This is the PLAIN truth.

  • Romania has a death rate of 3.8%, UK has a death rate of more than 10%, Romania has 150 deaths, Uk has more than 5000, Romania has 4000 cases, UK has 50 000, now you can see which country is more corrupt ? Not to mention that one million Romanians worked in Spain and One million in Italy, so Romania had much greater exposure to the infection than UK but does better with fewer resources. Mind your business, UK is more corrupt at head in particular . I think the article is written by a Romanian journalist looking to eat a dirty bread by giving indecent satisfaction to his employer who should speak more about the disaster of England. Romania has more immigrants in Spain and Italy than all the other countries of Eastern Europe combined and more. You are not good with numbers are you ? Also compared to its population Romania does not have many deaths or cases, few countries in Europe have comparable numbers, most fave a lot more. Ukraine is not connected to any hotspot and has tested very little and has significant mortality from pneumonia in any case. Romanians do not travel to Ukraine but to Italy and Spain that is the neighbouring which has a lot of infections

  • Eu am aplicat pt munca lor pe care o depun zilnic. Clar sunt multe de schimbat, dar nu vrei sa ajungi pe mâinile englezilor care aplaudă NHS zâmbind, cand de fapt sunt rugați să moară acasă la ei cu punga plină de paracetamol.
    Sunt 100% împotrivă spatii, dar sa nu uitam ca doctorii sunt foarte prost platiti in tara pt munca depusă. Am tot respectul pt multi doctori, asistente și infirmieră din România. Nu stiu sa zâmbească ca in Germania, Italia, Spania sau Anglia cand iti servesc ceaiul la pat, dar sti ca esti pe mâini bune.
    Acum 18 ani mi s a sugerat la nastere( cezariana) sa platesc anestezistul si am refuzat. Tot mi s a facut anestezie si nu am suferit deloc dupa, ne având reacții adverse. Clar se uitau la mine ciudat, dar asta a fost. Doctoritei ii multumesc mereu cand am ocazia pt ce a facut pt mine atunci. Fără șpagă.
    Acum 5 ani am nascut in Anglia. Nu mi s a cerut șpagă si nu am dat, dar as fi dat oricât doar sa nu am o copilă de 24 de ani ca anestezist si care habar nu avea ce face, chinuindu ma o oră până a reușit să mă amintească. And m.am.dus sa nasc nu aveam nimic in neregulă.
    După naștere am stat la pat 3 luni pt ca nu mi am simtit piciorul din cauza anestezie. Sti ce am primit? Paracetamol si ibrupofen, deși am precizat că am alergie. A, da si am primit si un So, sorry!
    NHS aplaudat de o tara intreaga in Anglia??? Imi pare rău dar a fost doar la TV, Radio si rudele.
    Intr adevăr aici doctori nu sunt buni de nimic. Tot respectul pt asistente/ti. Duc tot greul. Ei sunt doctori aici. Un doctor trebuie sa scrie pe google simptomele tale ca sa stie ce ai.
    Acum mă întreb, dupa articolul tau, sa incercam sa traim ajutand sistemul sanitar de acasa vu supliment de supraviețuire din buzunarele noastre netaxabil si sa ardem guvernul, fie el PSD, PNL.etc sau sa fugim in alte tari puternice economic si sa murim cu zâmbetul pe buze? I’m so sorry if I offended you! 😁

  • Your ideas are scattered and your argument is loosely supported by shady internet references. Throughout your article you mention corruption several times, the Social Democratic Party only as an acronym (who is your audience?), nosocomial infections twice (sure, healthcare related infections are a reality – everywhere – so what?), and some political scandals from the past that have yet to be resolved – without linking any of these things in a coherent manner.

    You make a brutal comparison of death tolls among several countries at a given time, without the slightest interpretation of the data you present. What is the difference between case fatality rate and infection fatality rate and why are they important when comparing between countries? What does number of deaths per million population mean? Why is Romania’s deaths/ million lower than that of other countries? Why is it significant that there are over 2 million Romanians in Italy and Spain for the situation here, in Romania? You may want to do at least a tiny bit of research before making whatever claims you are trying to make.

    While you were comparing how many people died in Romania versus how many people died in Hungary (what’s Hungary’s population again?), were you aware of the devestating effects of the pandemic on populations, healthcare systems, and economies across the globe? If it’s not your job to be informed of the scale of devestation that has swept through western countries such as the U.S, France, England, Spain – to name just a few (that consistently and scandalously score well on corruption indices), then I don’t know whose it is. Suceava is not a particularity of Romanian healthcare, it’s a world scale phenomenon that results from unpreperadness for such situations that results from faulty hiererachization of priorities.

    It is clear why you are presenting the situation in Romania as if it were occuring in a vacuum, and that is because you are politicizing the pandemic. You are trying to imply that the former government, the Social Democratic Party, is responsible for the local consequences of the inadvertant spread of SARS-Cov-2. I’m not going to ask why the current government is not being held accountable for its lack of foresight and why it didn’t prepare in advance for the realities that were at our door step many weeks ago – now is not the time. In his speech on Coronavirus Pandemic, president Trump says ”We are all in this together. We must put politics aside, stop the partisanship and unify together as one nation and one family”. What you are doing would be considered highly immoral even by Trump’s standards.

    As an infectious disease intern in Romania, I can tell you with certainty that Romanian healthcare providers, nurses and ancillary staff are being applauded daily for the work they are doing. What you are implying about healthcare workers is disgraceful and highly disrespectful to Romanian doctors who have deceased in recent weeks and their families, to all healthcare workers still risking their lives on a daily basis caring for the sick population. I can also say with certainty that nobody will be applauding third rate journalism and third rate journalists when the waters will calm down. Your article is not worth the paper it’s written on!