November 16, 2020 – When the global COVID-19 pandemic reached Croatia, one of the things everyone wanted to know was: how many medical ventilators are there in Croatia to help those suffering from the worst damage to their lungs?
Several months later, one thing remains almost exactly the same: it’s almost impossible to tell what the exact answer to that question is. Unofficially, the number that has been floated around by many, including the Croatian President Zoran Milanović is that there are around 800 ventilators in Croatia. Back in March and April, I tried finding some confirmation for the number being thrown around, and the most official sources back then kept repeating the mantra “the information is not made public because of the security precautions, there are enough ventilators in Croatia, and they will be distributed as needed”. One other thing often mentioned by any official source was that Croatia was planning to procure more ventilators, to make sure we had enough if the second wave hit. A long time ago, way before this current pandemic, Croatia was ranked quite high in terms of the number of critical care beds, corrected for the population. The scientific paper published in intensive care Medicine scientific journal had Croatia on the seventh place in that metric in Europe.
Well, the second wave did, in fact, hit and now it seems that the number of ventilators in Croatia might again be the question worth asking. And, recently, a report by the RTL seems to give a definitive answer: there are 867 ventilators in Croatia. The report also provides the distribution of the ventilators within the Croatian hospitals, divided into stationary and mobile ventilators. At the same time, the article itself mentions the number of 1,168 ventilators, without even trying to address the discrepancy between the two figures! The report does not say anything about how they got their numbers, so it’s almost impossible to fact-check them. They do, however, acknowledge that the officials have said that the ventilators will be sent to where they will be needed the most, depending on what’s going on at any given moment with the epidemic in Croatia. And it would appear that no major procurement of additional resources took place during the summer in preparation for the second-wave (we knew was coming).
Today, as I’m writing this article, there are around 16,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Croatia, with 191 patients on the ventilator. And while we might not know exactly how many ventilators there are in Croatia or where they are, for now, we can be certain that there are enough ventilators in Croatia for the current extent of the epidemic. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s impossible for all of those ventilators to be used to help COVID patients, as a ventilator is often needed for any type of major surgery, and there are still patients having medical emergencies and having surgery, COVID notwithstanding. At the same time, that doesn’t give us a free pass to behave irresponsibly, as each and every one of us and our behaviour is the key factor in how bad the epidemic is going to get, and how many people will end up needing the ventilator to survive.