Sardjono Utomo, a senior Indonesian physician, late on Tuesday afternoon admitted himself to his local hospital in East Java.
In just over 24 hours, as his fellow doctors phoned hospital after hospital in search of a ventilator in Surabaya — Indonesia’s second-largest city and a few hours’ drive away — the doctor and his wife, Sri Martini, would both be dead.
The death of Sardjono and his wife from COVID-19 has raised alarm bells in the world’s fourth-most populated nation, where the pandemic has steadily gone from bad to worse and is putting a significant strain on the country’s poorly equipped healthcare system.
In the past 10 days, Indonesia has posted four daily record-high numbers, the highest was on Thursday with 8,369 new cases, while local news channels have run headlines of more regional hospitals reaching capacity.
“It seems like the current overcapacity situation is the worst it has been throughout the pandemic in Indonesia,” Indonesian Medical Association spokesman Halik Malik said.
Public health experts have said that Indonesia has struggled since March to get the pandemic under control, now with 563,680 cases and 17,479 confirmed deaths — plus another nearly 70,000 suspected cases — it has by far the highest caseload and death toll in Southeast Asia, and the data show that the situation is intensifying.
Photo: Arif Rahman / via Reuters
In Pamekasan, a modest district on Madura bordered by the Java Sea, where Sardjono worked for years as a hospital director, there is not even one ventilator.
However, when the 67-year-old radiologist arrived at Pamekasan’s Muhamad Noer Hospital, he desperately needed one.
“Everywhere was full — and everything is full here in Pamekasan,” said pulmonologist Syaiful Hidayat, who treated Sardjono. “Now it is peaking.”
Sardjono’s son-in-law, 41-year-old Arif Rahman, said the deaths of his in-laws highlighted how ill-equipped the nation’s hospitals were to handle the pandemic.
“Ventilators are important,” he said, “In Pamekasan, which is a referral for other regions, it is of course pitiful. Let alone in other places like Surabaya, where it is always full.”
Asked why Sardjono could not find a ventilator, Surabaya government spokesman Febriadhitya Prajatara said they had tried too late, and the city was not to blame.
In the capital, there is also cause for concern.
LaporCOVID-19, an independent coronavirus data initiative, this week said that Jakarta’s emergency wards were veering toward “collapse.”
In helping coronavirus patients find hospital beds from Nov. 27 to Nov. 29, LaporCOVID-19 contacted emergency wards at 69 hospitals and discovered that 97 percent were full.
Asked why a senior doctor was unable to receive the treatment he needed, Syaiful said there was just not enough room.
“Who do you want to kick out?” he asked. “You can’t do that. It shows that COVID is here and it is real… It can happen to anyone and we won’t have enough beds.”
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