Police in Lima arrested nine people on Wednesday in connection with an alleged criminal ring that charged severe Chinese coronavirus patients up to $21,000 for an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed at a state-run hospital, Peru’s Gestión newspaper reported.
Police in the Peruvian national capital detained several people for alleged involvement in the scam, including “administrators of Lima’s Guillermo Almenara Irigoyen public hospital,” Peruvian prosecutor Reynaldo Abia told reporters on July 21.
Peruvian security officials also detained “the directors of a patient care NGO [non-governmental organization]” in Peru called “Donantes de Esperanza,” or Donors of Hope in English, as part of the raid.
The National Police of Peru began investigating the alleged criminal ring in May after police officers in Lima received a complaint from a woman whose family member was suffering from severe symptoms of the Chinese coronavirus. She told police that public health workers at Guillermo Almenara Irigoyen hospital asked her for 82,000 soles ($21,000) “to bump her loved one up on the waiting list for an intensive care bed” at the state-run health center, according to Agence France-Presse.
Peruvian Health Minister Óscar Ugarte told reporters on July 21 the public health scandal was “totally reprehensible,” adding, “We cannot be negotiating with people’s lives.”
“It is abominable that someone could trade in ICU beds. I believe the punishment [for the crime] should be drastic,” Ugarte said during a press briefing on July 22.
The Peruvian government’s “EsSalud” social security system administers Lima’s Guillermo Almenara Irigoyen public hospital, meaning it ostensibly provides care to Peruvian citizens free of charge.
“Patients must endure a long waiting list for the 80 ICU beds the hospital offers,” Reuters reported on July 21.
“During the peak of the [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic, many patients paid large sums of money to private clinics as the [Peruvian] public [health] system neared collapse,” according to the news agency. “The number of available ICU beds has since soared to nearly 3,000 nationwide, compared to just hundreds available in March last year, but beds are still in high demand in the Andean nation.”
Peruvian health officials said at one point in April, a record-setting 15,547 people were admitted to hospitals nationwide for symptoms of the Chinese coronavirus. That figure is down to roughly 7,000 today, AFP reported on July 22. Peru currently has the highest Chinese coronavirus mortality rate in the world after adjusting its pandemic health statistics in late May. The South American nation recorded 195,243 deaths from the disease at press time, along with more than two million infections. Peru is home to approximately 33 million people.