Hospital blackouts kill

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Frequent blackouts across Ho Chi Minh City have become fatal for hospital patients


Doctors perform an operation at Ho Chi Minh City's Thu Duc District Hospital. Continuous blackouts at local hospitals are a huge threat to patients, doctors said.

Hospitals in HCMC are suffering from frequent power cuts despite policies that have given them priority over supplies "under any circumstances.

Administrators at Thu Duc District Hospital said having generators and a backup power supply did not mean the facility was safe from sudden and continuous power outages.

In fact, many surgery procedures at the hospital were interrupted or canceled last week when power was cut seven times in one day.

While doctors were waiting for generators to start, usually automatically between seven and ten seconds after blackouts happened, operations had to stop for a moment, meaning that the delays were repeated due to continuous power cuts, a doctor said.

Every day, Thu Duc District Hospital performs many operations, including brain surgery, he said. The facility also examines between 1,400- 2,000 patients per day.

Nguyen Tran Chinh, director of HCMC Hospital for Tropical Diseases, said power failures hit his hospital twice last week.

Though the incidents did not cause any critical problems, Chinh was concerned that sudden shutdowns would damage equipment and affect surgeries, especially emergencies.

An anaesthetist from a HCMC-based general hospital said on the condition of anonymity that sudden power cuts can sometimes be fatal for patients who are using breathing machines, especially when the machines are old, in which case it is easy for their batteries to malfunction during blackouts.

In the dark

The central city of Da Nang reported the same situation. For nearly one month, power outages have taken place citywide and more frequently due to soaring power demand during hot weather.

The city is cutting down its supply by some 500,000 KWh a day, and hospitals are of no exception.

Nguyen Ngoc Thanh, director of Da Nang General Hospital, said they have two generators a new one with capacity of 500 kWh and an old one, which can provide power to recuperation, emergency and operations, as well as to patients in critical condition.

"All other rooms suffer from no power when blackouts happen, Thanh said.

In fact, all elevators then were shutdown, while many patients in critical condition had been put on high floors, making it almost impossible to move them around, according to the hospital.

Worse still, Da Nang General Hospital was usually crowded with patients, so it was unbearably hot for both patients and staff when power was cut during hot summer days, Thanh said.

A representative from the Hanoi-based Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology also said blackouts forced staff in areas without generators to work in complete darkness, greatly increasing the risk of human error in treatment.

HCMC POWER SHORTAGE TO CONTINUE

Following complaints from hospitals, Tran Khiem Tuan, deputy director general of HCMC Power Corporation, told a meeting on May 14 that its member companies would be fined if they cut power to important places like hospitals, schools and traffic lights.

According to Tuan, the city would continue having difficulties with its power supply through next month, because it is consuming more power than its regular distribution target set by the state-owned power monopoly Electricity of Vietnam.

HCMC has been given the target of 45.43 million-46.5 million kWh a day from May 10-23, but the city is using much more than that, up to 50.03 million kWh on May 12 due to hot weather, local news website VietNamNet reported.

Tuan was concerned that if HCMC did not improve on power savings, especially in production and daily activities, it would be very likely that power outages in the southern city would only get worse in the near future.

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