Medicine for the People screens the staff and all the residents of a nursing home


Medicine for the People, the network of people's clinics linked to the PTB-PVDA, has medical teams ready to screen staff and residents of nursing homes in the fight against coronavirus.


On 7th April, Medicine for the People (MPLP) screened all the nursing staff and residents of the Zilverbos nursing home in Zelzate (East Flanders). "Homes for the elderly are the new critical point of the pandemic", according to MPLP. "Additional measures are needed to protect our elderly persons and their carers."

Concern is growing in nursing homes, both among residents and staff. The spread of the virus is increasing sharply. "Carers testify to that they go to work scared to death", says Sofie Merckx, general practitioner at MPLP and PTB-PVDA member of the federal parliament. "They are afraid of being infected and of transmitting the disease if they unknowingly carry the virus. Figures show that one in eight infected people over 80 years of age dies from the virus. It is therefore crucial to avoid contagion in the elderly care sector. With our pilot project, we are drawing attention to the need to carry out as many tests as possible. It's the only way to stop the spread of the coronavirus and avoid more tragedy."

Testing, testing, testing: also and especially in the homes for the elderly

"Based on the results, residents and staff members carrying the virus can be separated from the uninfected", says Anne Delespaul, general practitioner and spokesperson for Medicine for the People. "For the first group, we can provide appropriate care and protection, and for the second group, preventive measures can be taken to avoid contamination. We hope that this generalised screening will be replicated as soon as possible in all nursing homes in Belgium."

The tests carried out in rest homes are still very selective today. "This has to change urgently", insists Anne Delespaul. "You can't put out a fire blindfolded, as the World Health Organization (WHO) explains. This is all the more true for our rest homes. As long as you don't know if and where there are infections, you don't know what protective measures need to be taken and the virus can spread without any problem within this particularly vulnerable target group."

Medicine for the People proposes three concrete measures that the government can take immediately:

1. the introduction of generalised screening for Covid-19 in all nursing homes in Belgium, for all residents and staff, including those who do not present any symptoms. Staff who test positive must remain at home for treatment and residents with the disease must be separated from uncontaminated residents. This requires a significant increase in screening capacity. Despite the promises, this is still not enough. However, examples from abroad show that this is possible.

2. immediate reinforcement of staff in residential care centres. Staff shortages are already noticeable in normal times, and this is even more the case today, with sick staff having to be replaced and care having to be reorganised. To do this, three tracks can be activated: calling and actively involving students in health care, nursing and medicine; actively mobilising all those with medical training and calling on the expertise and logistical support of organisations such as the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières. Today, there are medical students who want to help but are not called.

3. urgently provide the necessary protective equipment by establishing a centrally managed national inventory, redirecting industrial production towards the production of protective equipment where possible and requisitioning stocks from mask dealers and speculators. This means that all nursing home care staff can wear a mask at all times to prevent the spread of the virus.

Medicine for the People pleads that the government generalizes this pilot project throughout the country. "This is the most vulnerable population", concludes Sofie Merckx. "This can perfectly well be organised on a national scale. What are we waiting for?"