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Translated Story: No appointments for mental health patients during the COVID-19 pandemic

Andrés Colao speaks from his own experience as a patient who has seen the COVID-19 pandemic cripple an already weak healthcare system. He is the spokesperson for AFESA, a Spanish charity of people with mental illness and their relatives. For those who had a disorder diagnosed before the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis has left them in limbo.

Jorge Daniel Castilla, who was undergoing treatment for a mental health condition, says, “I have had a couple of calls since March, the last one was in June to ask how I was doing. My therapy has been left up in the air.”

The crisis has been especially difficult for people seeking psychiatric and psychological services. “There are patients who have suffered a lot,” Colao says.

COVID-19 has caused a tsunami in mental health. During the first wave, 93% of countries surveyed by the World Health Organization (WHO) suffered paralysis in one or more services for patients with mental, neurological and substance abuse problems. Almost 40% of participating European countries reported worse conditions: they had stopped three out of four health services. “The stricter the lockdown, the more severe the impact,” says Marcin Rodzinka, spokesperson for Mental Health Europe, a network of mental health service users and professionals. This happened in Spain, for example, which shut its mental health outpatient centres.

Continue reading Translated Story: No appointments for mental health patients during the COVID-19 pandemic

Translated Story: COVID-19 pandemic exposes southern Europe’s nursing shortage

Every evening this spring, when the clocks struck eight, thousands of people across Europe came out to applaud from their balconies. They did this to recognise the immense effort of healthcare workers who are still fighting to save the lives of thousands of patients. Since the crisis began, Europe has recorded over 1.5 million cases. COVID-19 has killed at least 174,000 Europeans. “These have been very hard months. What health centres have experienced is appalling,” says María José García, spokesperson for SATSE, the main Spanish nursing union. García, who works in Madrid, has been one of thousands of healthcare workers who have been on the front line against the virus. As in other European countries, they have made a titanic effort despite the lack of resources.

However, there is an invisible line across Europe. Before COVID-19 hit, the Nordic and Central European countries had the best prepared health staff. Although the number of doctors per capita was similar to southern Europe, another important link in the chain differed: nursing. The northern and central European countries had many more nurses than did southern European countries. According to Eurostat data, Germany had almost 13 nurses per thousand inhabitants, similar to Luxembourg (11.72), Belgium (10.96), Sweden (10.90), the Netherlands (10.88) or Denmark (9.95).

At the other extreme, Greece had 3.31 nurses per thousand inhabitants in 2017, the lowest number. According to Eurostat data, other southern countries also had large staffing shortages. Spain, with 5.74 nursing specialists per thousand inhabitants, and Italy, with 5.80, were far more short-handed than their northern neighbours. During the height of the pandemic, both Spain and Italy became epicentres of the health crisis. The COVID-19 emergency has revealed, more clearly than ever, one of the historical weaknesses of those countries’ health systems: the nursing shortage. The fewer the nurses per patient the worse the health outcomes, according to a study of 300 hospitals in nine European countries.

Continue reading Translated Story: COVID-19 pandemic exposes southern Europe’s nursing shortage

Translated Story: Journalism first: doing advocacy with data on your side

I translated this essay by Civio Co-Director Eva Belmonte for

Some of the best examples of data journalism are big investigations, where you spend months understanding a complex issue, discovering data where there was none or diving into huge amounts of information to find something invisible to the naked eye. Bringing new light to an issue. But to understand the complexity of this data you need time, resources, and a lot of digging. 

By the end of that odyssey, you no longer consult experts, you are the expert. And it is a waste to not take advantage of all that knowledge to try to fix the problems you encountered along the way. 

Now, you might say: “We are journalists. We are here to narrate the world, not to fix it.” 

I’m not so sure.

Read the rest of Belmonte’s essay at [html] [pdf].