Excess deaths caused by oxygen shortages required to treat patients diagnosed with Chinese coronavirus led to the resignation of two senior health officials in the city of Rostov-on-Don in Russia, local officials confirmed Tuesday.
The Moscow Times reported that the country’s health watchdog began investigating claims from workers and officials last week that 13 patients had died after failing to receive the necessary oxygen supplies while suffering from coronavirus.
Following the investigation, regional health minister Tatyana Bykovskaya retired. The head of the city’s healthcare management, Nadezhda Levitskaya, was dismissed from the role. The health watchdog, known as the Roszdravnadzor, also confirmed that they will ask all regional authorities to immediately report any medical oxygen shortages in local hospitals.
Hospital officials from Rostov-on-Don have denied allegations that they failed to procure sufficient supplies, instead suggesting that the shortage may have been the result of a leak. However, one of the doctors reportedly described a dire situation in which patients were desperately gasping for air after failing to receive the necessary oxygen.
“Patients immediately panic and try to get oxygen from elsewhere, gasping for air like fish pulled out of the water,” 27-year-old anesthesiologist Artur Toporov said in an investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta. “We talked to them. There was nothing else we could help them with.”
Russia’s healthcare system has faced several accusations of drastic mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. In May, five people died and many more were injured after ventilators caught fire at an intensive care unit in St. Petersburg. According to sources who spoke with the BBC, the machines caught fire because they had been overloaded.
In April, medical students across Russia revealed they were threatened with academic repercussions if they refused to work in hospitals as support doctors at the height of the pandemic. The shortage of doctors was in part caused by the large number of medical workers protesting the lack of personal protective equipment provided by health authorities.
Russia is one of the countries most severely affected by the pandemic and remains under one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. As of Wednesday, the country has recorded over 1.5 million cases and nearly 27,000 deaths, the fourth-highest number worldwide. The Kremlin claims that researchers have developed the world’s first successful vaccine, although multiple health organizations have cast doubt on its efficacy.