As vaccination programs continue to be rolled out around the world, many countries are now turning their attention to the pent-up demand for non-Covid-19 health care, which fell by the wayside during months of crisis response.
In Romania, there is a deep concern about an overwhelmed health care system as many people suffering from other health issues have been without care, or missing regular medical appointments, over the past year. That includes cancer patients and those with HIV.
Victor Cauni, interim manager of one of the largest hospitals in the capital, Bucharest, said that the urology ward had gone from performing 400 to 500 medical interventions a month in recent years to barely 50 in total in the past year.
“Whether we like it or not, we have more patients with many other illnesses compared to Covid patients,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press last week. “We need to open for them at least partially. We’re discriminating against patients with serious conditions.”
Health care scandals in Romania in recent years have also left many people cautious about seeking treatment at hospitals, an issue exacerbated by the pandemic. Since November, fires in two hospitals treating coronavirus patients have left more than 20 people dead.
Romania’s spending on its health care system is among the lowest in the European Union, with just 5.2 percent of its G.D.P. allocated toward it. The average in the bloc is around 10 percent.
The Romanian Health Ministry organized a call last month with hospital administrators about the need to evaluate infrastructure and potentially create separate channels for coronavirus patients so that other patients could receive treatment. The ministry is also assessing the ability to use some hospitals solely for the treatment of patients with severe cases of the virus, and return others to handling only patients being treated for other conditions.
“I think it’s only in the second half of this year that we’re going to really understand what happened last year in terms of access to health care,” said Vlad Voiculescu, the Romanian health minister.
Mr. Voiculescu noted that access to treatment had been limited for some patients, especially those in rural and smaller urban areas where hospitals of 300 or 400 beds had been transformed into coronavirus support hospitals.
“This cannot go on,” he said, adding that some hospitals were already set to return to more general usage.
Romania has largely kept the spread of the coronavirus in check, putting in place tight restrictions early on that limited the number of infections. Still, there have been more than 800,000 confirmed cases and more than 20,500 deaths in the country, which has a population of around 19 million.
Like the rest of the world, Romania is bracing for another potential wave in cases, with concerning variants of the virus on the rise.
“We have the vaccination campaign,” Mr. Voiculescu said, adding, “We do have the mechanisms in place for more precautionary measures if there’s going to be another wave.”