Indonesia turns to telemedicine for COVID-19 as hospitals struggle

Country is battling one of Asia's worst COVID-19 epidemics


Reuters July 05, 2021
Workers wearing protective masks load empty coffins for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims into an ambulance to be distributed to a hospital as the cases surge in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 5, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA:

Indonesia will provide free telemedicine services to coronavirus patients with mild symptoms, its health minister said on Monday, in an effort to reduce pressure on a healthcare sector inundated by record numbers of COVID-19 cases.

With records most days last week and deaths surpassing 500 on several of those, Indonesia is battling one of Asia's worst COVID-19 epidemics, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant first identified in India.

Remote services will be provided from Tuesday by telehealth firms such as Alodokter and Halodoc and will include free consultations and medication delivery, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a news conference.

"Positive COVID-19 patients can get medical services on time without waiting in line at hospitals, so that hospitals can be prioritised for patients with medium, heavy, and critical symptoms," he said.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati on Monday said health spending would be raised again to 193.93 trillion rupiah ($13.39 billion) for coronavirus treatment, testing, tracing, drugs, vaccines and protective gear.

Read more: Iran at risk of fifth Covid-19 wave as Delta variant spreads

Hospital bed occupancy was at 75% nationwide as of July 2, the health ministry said, but some hospitals on the most populous island of Java have reported over 90% capacity, including in the capital Jakarta.

Oxygen shortages have also been reported, which authorities attributed to distribution hurdles and limited production capacity.

Sardjito hospital on Java said 63 patients died after it nearly ran out of oxygen at the weekend, although a spokesman could not determine whether all were coronavirus patients. read more

Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, a senior minister assigned to tackle the case spike on Java and Bali, said oxygen supplies would be ramped up for hospitals and imported if necessary, but said the surge was "under control".

Local newspaper headlines on Monday showed alarm over the crisis, with "Java's health system paralysed" the Jakarta Post's front page headline in capital letters and "SOS medical services" on the cover of Koran Tempo.

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