As the world grapples with an apparently shrinking supply of ventilators, tactics to secure them have allegedly gotten ugly and even illegal. Now, America has become the latest country to be accused of stealing the medical machines designed to keep patients breathing that have become an essential fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The United States “seized” ventilators that were bound for Barbados and paid for by singer Rihanna, the Caribbean island nation’s top health official told local media on Sunday. Barbados Minister of Health and Wellness Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic said his office was investigating how that happened, according to news outlet Barbados Today.
“They were seized in the United States. Paid for, but seized, so we are trying to see exactly what is going to transpire there,” Bostic said. “But I remind you that ventilators are one of the most in-demand items in the world today and Barbados is merely wrestling with the other 203 countries and territories around the world seeking to secure as many of these pieces of equipment as possible.”
As of Monday, Barbados had 48 ventilators to treat its at least 56 confirmed coronavirus cases that were determined by conducting more than 500 tests for the island with a population of more than 285,000 people. The country reported its first coronavirus-related death on Sunday, according to Reuters. Rihanna, a native of Barbados, had previously purchased $700,000 worth of ventilators for the island nation.
Bostic insisted Barbados did not have a lack of ventilators for patients who need them, but that could change moving forward as effects from the coronavirus were expected to worsen around the globe before they got better.
“So it is absurd for anyone to say, suggest, imply or insinuate that there is a shortage or could in the foreseeable future be an acute shortage of ventilators on the island,” Bostic said. “We have an adequate amount of ventilators at this point and ventilators have been arriving almost daily over the past two weeks or so. But up to this point, we have only had to use three ventilators.”
That claim stood in stark contrast to the fact there is a decided shortage of ventilators in the U.S., where most of the machines promised by President Donald Trump weren’t expected to be ready for months.
The coronavirus has been gradually spreading in the Caribbean with cases and/or deaths reported in at least 22 countries and territories.
Aside from the allegations out of Barbados, there have been a fair amount of reports in the U.S. of personal protective equipment (PPEs) like ventilators and the coveted N-95 masks being “seized.” Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., said the other day that he was planning to take ventilators from places not using theirs.
“I’m not going to be in a position where people are dying and we have several hundred ventilators in our own state, somewhere else,” Cuomo said Friday about using the National Guard to seize ventilators and protective equipment from hospitals and other health care facilities in upstate New York. “I apologize for the hardship to those institutions — ultimately there is no hardship, if you don’t get the ventilator back, I give you my personal word I will pay you for the ventilator — but I’m not going to let people die because we didn’t redeploy these ventilators.”
The U.S. isn’t the only country being allegedly stealing PPEs as nations continue to deal with a global pandemic that they were wholly unprepared for. Spain accused Turkey of doing the same thing over the weekend and the Czech Republic finally relayed 110,000 face masks to Italy after having seized them first.
There’s also the case of the U.S. federal government seizing PPE shipments intended for states. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said last week that 3 million face masks the state ordered were “confiscated in the port of New York.
This is America.