"Spanish and Dutch systems already under intense pressure"
23 March 2020
Antwerp researchers launch website to compare coronavirus impact per country.
All European countries are currently fighting the coronavirus. The capacity of their respective health systems will play a decisive role in their efforts to combat COVID-19. UAntwerp scientists have developed a method to compare the pressure on different countries' health systems in real time.
The exponential growth in the number of reported SARS-CoV-2 infections is currently having a major impact on daily life across the globe. The measures taken by governments are mainly aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. This way, epidemiologists and other researchers modelling the disease hope to make the incidence curve less steep and spread it out over time. This is what is referred to as "flattening the curve".
"One of the main concerns is the capacity of our healthcare systems," explains Prof. Philippe Beutels (UAntwerp). "That capacity is limited and may not be sufficient. The number of cases and hospital admissions will skyrocket if social distancing measures are not respected. Countries are now trying – each in their own way – to increase the number of hospital beds, intensive care beds and healthcare workers available to care for patients with serious symptoms. But the extra capacity they can make available ultimately depends on their base capacity, and that is what we are basing our analyses on."
Beds, doctors and expenses
The University of Antwerp launched a study into the pressure on healthcare systems throughout Europe by analysing several indicators of these systems’ capacity. They took the number of hospital beds, the number of physicians and the total healthcare expenditure per country into account to assess the impact of COVID-19 on European countries.
"We are also introducing an indicator based on the number of nurses and doctors as well as the number of beds in intensive care units," says Beutels. "After all, extra beds are only useful if extra medical staff are available too. The indicators are presented in relation to the situation in Italy on 11 March, the day the country was no longer able to cope with the situation. Different countries can also be compared."
Very high pressure in Spain
The indicators are very time sensitive due to the rapid spread of the virus, which is why PhD students Frederik Verelst and Elise Kuylen have also developed a website where the indicators can be monitored in real time.
Verelst: "Comparing the number of deaths to the number of hospital beds, we see that there is tremendous pressure on Spain as we speak. Compared to the baseline situation in Italy on 11 March, the pressure in Spain on 21 March was already three times as high. And in the Netherlands, too, the situation is gradually evolving towards the Italian scenario (see figure). In Italy, the pressure on the healthcare system is now six times higher than last week."
The analyses currently show that the countries under the most pressure are Spain and the Netherlands, followed by France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Belgium.