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  • Writer's pictureAmar Adiya

Is Mongolia ready for the COVID's worst-case scenario?

The current 10 cases (at the time of writing) are related to travellers who flew in from abroad. PM Khurelsukh promised to repatriate hundreds of more citizens stranded in virus affected countries. It is probably a matter of time when Mongolia starts to have community transmission cases as isolation facilities will run out of spaces. If community transmission starts resulting in a sudden surge of only hundreds of patients country's health service will likely be overwhelmed as health workers still don't have enough masks and other needed protective equipment.    

With 3.2m total population and around 130,000 over 65 age, the capital city UB is the most vulnerable and the densest hotspot for community transmission. UB has more than 300 people per square km compared to less than two in the countryside, where social distancing will likely to work better.

According to statistics, Mongolia has 7 hospital bedsper 1,000 with half of all beds in UB city, which may sound to be not bad compared to other advanced countries. But they are not equipped to treat serious and critical patients. The health ministry ordered to buy an ECMO machine (MNT 720m), the first in Mongolia, this week. ECMO machines apparently help a severely infected patient, for whom a ventilator or any other intensive care won't help.

As of February, there were 3 public facilities (infectious disease centre, military hospital and the 1st hospital) in UB with around 800 beds able to provide intensive care for COVID patients. It's not clear how many of them have needed ventilators for critical cases.

Mongolia has over 5,000 testing kits in stock and is planning to buy 10,000 more. Only 4,000 people, mostly travellers from abroad and who had contact with confirmed cases, have been tested so far. Health authorities have not announced any plans to go out and actively test people without symptoms.

SOS Medica is probably the most capable private hospital in UB but it mostly serves small number of corporate ex-pats, diplomatic community and wealthy Mongolians offering emergency flights to Beijing and Seoul in case of life-and-death situation. It's not clear whether SOS Medica is able now to operate such emergency evacuation flights during the current COVID situation. The second most capable private medical facility is Intermed with 90 beds.

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