With his father and mother having to be hospitalized due to a worsening of Covid-19, Wilson Campusano and his sister managed, at great expense, a place for the couple in a health insurance hospital. But everything else had to come from the family’s income: the stretcher they are lying on, medicine, alcohol to disinfect their hands, masks, meals and even a device used with the oxygen cylinder for them. help to breathe.
Whoever installed this device, in fact, was a family friend, who is a dentist, using a video uploaded by another friend, a doctor. One of the doctors at the hospital took the opportunity to see the recording as well, as he had to install it on another patient and didn’t know how to do it.
Juan and Nilda, Wilson’s parents, live in Encarnación, in southern Paraguay. The 37-year-old freelance man lives in São Paulo, but had to hurry to his home country after the two fell ill. “The Brazilian complains about medicine in Brazil, but here it is much worse,” he said.
Like other relatives of patients, he and his sister act as nurses because there are not enough professionals to meet the demand. “You have to run to warn when the oxygen is depleted, when you need medication,” he says. In the hallways full of infected people, they are also at risk of contracting the pathogen, simply because there is no alternative.
A positive example in South America in the early months of the pandemic, keeping the disease under control with strict rules of social isolation and border closures, Paraguay is currently going through its worst time of health crisis, with a rapid increase the number of cases and deaths, hospital collapse, intensive care units with full occupancy and queue of patients waiting for beds.
In the words of the local director of health surveillance, Guillermo Sequera, the country “samba to the rhythm of Brazil”. One of the factors that worsened the crisis came precisely from here: in mid-March, the P.1 variant, identified in Manaus, was already responsible for more than 50% of the cases detected in Paraguay, according to a study.
In the first months of this year, the total number of deaths from Covid-19, which exceeds 5,000, is more than double the 2,262 deaths last year.
The absolute numbers may seem small, but in proportion to the population of 7 million people, they are worrisome. The country has, for example, the second highest daily death rate per million population in the world: 11.22, just behind Uruguay.
The average was 80 per day on June 12 of this year – on the same date last year it was zero and it was no more than 23 in 2020.
“We have brought the pandemic under control because we have been closed for seven months: non-essential activities have been closed, schools have been suspended, interaction between people has greatly diminished. In this strict quarantine, we took the opportunity to improve the health system, ”says Elena Candia, president of the Paraguayan Society of Infectious Diseases.
Gradually, and under the pressure of the economic crisis, the government relaxed the restrictions until they were lifted in October. “But then the people realized that the pandemic was also over. They abandoned the protective measures, meetings were held for more than a hundred people in closed places, non-essential activities resumed, ”explains Candia.
According to her, in January and February, more than 10,000 Paraguayans vacationed in Brazil. It is believed that in this way, the P.1 variant entered and spread throughout the country. During Holy Week, several residents of the capital visited family members in the countryside, carrying the virus to towns which previously had few cases – and which lacked doctors and hospitals. “And we came in today, with the health care system totally collapsing.”
On the day of the interview, Thursday the 13th, Candia informed that there were 150 patients waiting for an intensive care bed. Many people are already dying at home without care. If the number of intensive care beds has doubled since the start of the pandemic (from 300 to 630), it is little to meet the high demand.
Even if more beds were open, there are not enough professionals to provide care. There are only about 100 intensive care doctors in the country, most of them concentrated in Asunción. Many interior beds are cared for by doctors who have no experience with this type of patient.
After the entry of the P1 variant into the country, the profile of critically ill patients changed. Today, nearly 70% of those entering intensive care are under the age of 60.
“We are following the Brazilian model. The curves are similar, the number of cases and deaths in proportion to the population as well. And we must not forget that we have open land borders, which makes control even more difficult, ”says Candia.
The borders with Brazil and Argentina were closed for seven months last year and reopened in October.
According to the doctor, Paraguay currently does not have a plan to fight the pandemic. In March, the situation took the population to the streets to protest against President Mario Abdo Benítez and his handling of the crisis. The government even attempted an eight-day quarantine during Holy Week, but that had no effect on controlling transmission, says the infectologist. It is expected that, with family reunions on Mother’s Day this Saturday (15), the situation will worsen.
Vaccination, which could alleviate the health crisis, is proceeding at a very slow pace. So far, less than 1% of the population has taken both doses.
The country has bought or received as a donation vaccines from several laboratories, including doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, Indian Covaxin and those produced by Chinese Sinopharm and Britain’s AstraZeneca. But very few doses arrived.
Ally of Jair Bolsonaro, Abdo Benítez complained in March about the delay in the shipment of vaccines by the Covax consortium – a global initiative promoted by the WHO to facilitate access to vaccines – and asked for help from countries of the region.
Paraguayan Chancellor Euclides Acevedo came to Brazil to ask for help from the government. “We have the money, but we don’t know where to buy the vaccines. It seems they are hiding from us, ”Acevedo said at the time.
In this context, Abdo Benítez’s support for Taiwan, regarded by China as a rebel province, has been called into question, as it has undermined diplomatic relations with Beijing. Taiwan accused the Chinese government of blackmailing its South American ally by offering vaccines in exchange for severing diplomatic ties and on April 22 donated $ 16.5 million to Abdo Benítez to fund the purchase of doses of Covaxin.
Meanwhile, without access to sufficient financial assistance to allow them to stay at home and without vaccines to protect them, Paraguayans are at risk of the disease. According to forecasts from the Institute of Metrics and Health Assessment (IHME) at the University of Washington, if nothing is done, the number of daily deaths is expected to double by the end of May and reach 200 per day on December 12. and June.
“We’re really exhausted because we don’t see any short-term solutions. We see patients with many needs and we find ourselves with our hands tied because often we cannot help. It’s very stressful, ”says Elena Candia.
In Encarnación, Juan and Nilda, Wilson Campusano’s parents, struggle to survive. There is no post in the ICU and the rooms are also full. Some private hospitals charge the equivalent of R $ 18,000 just to the hospitalized patient, apart from the daily rate of R $ 3,000. Even so, they are crowded. “It was only by a miracle from God that we got this job,” he says.
He is relieved that his mother can go into a room. Your father is still in the hallway. Near them, those who cannot afford their own stretcher have to spend the day and night in chairs they bring from home.