Enlarge /. Nurses light candles to honor the 84 coronavirus (COVID-19) victims in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 12, 2020 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
View more stories
While deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic plateau and slowly decrease in some parts of Europe and the United States, devastation is at its peak in Latin America.
The death toll in cities and regions of Brazil, Peru and Ecuador is alarming, according to a New York Times analysis – in some places five times higher than normal mortality rates.
While some of the official pandemic deaths remain low, a Times mortality review shows a significant increase. Deaths include those that come directly from COVID-19 and for other reasons – which in some cases may be due to the fact that people are unable to receive standard care while health systems overwhelm during the pandemic are.
In the past two months, deaths in Lima, Peru have doubled compared to the historical average. In Manaus, the capital of the Amazon in Brazil, the deaths in April reached about 2,800 – three times the historical average. Gravediggers in the city were reportedly stacking coffins three layers deep in mass graves to keep up with the number of bodies.
In the port city of Guayaquil in Ecuador, deaths rose five times the average – an increase comparable to the increase in deaths in New York City during the worst outbreak. Guayaquil residents have been reported to be forced to leave corpses in cardboard boxes on the streets for days.
SARS-CoV-2, the new corona virus that causes COVID-19, was slow to reach Latin America. Despite the late arrival, many areas had difficulty preparing. Guatemala and Haiti have only about 100 ventilators between them last month, according to an article in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Mexico, the article also says, has high rates of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, which are risk factors for serious diseases.
"It's a very difficult situation," Alfonso Rodríguez-Morales of the Colombian Association for Infectious Diseases told the magazine. “Obviously, health systems are not trained on coronavirus. We have had a little more time to prepare for the arrival of the disease, but some places will really have problems. "
There were also problems with messaging. In February, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said COVID-19 was "not even as bad as the flu". Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had denied the death toll and the need for social distancing. When asked recently about the increasing death toll in the country, he replied, "So? I'm sorry. What should I do?" according to the Times.
Nicaragua, meanwhile, has refused to take socially distancing measures, and there are media reports that the government is covering up the extent of its outbreak. So far, only around 25 million and eight deaths have been reported in the country with around 6.5 million. The number is probably a big underestimation.
Even without exact numbers, the overall picture does not look good. "We are deeply concerned about how quickly the pandemic is expanding," said Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan-American Health Organization, Regional Office for America of the World Health Organization (PAHO / WHO), in a press release May 12. She continued:
In South America, health systems in large urban centers such as Lima and Rio de Janeiro are quickly overwhelmed. We are also seeing a similar impact of COVID-19 on major cities in the Amazon basin.
When transmission is high in areas that serve as regional hubs, neighboring areas are quickly affected – when people move through streets and rivers – and affect smaller towns and remote communities, including indigenous areas where access to Health care is difficult.
PAHO continues to coordinate the response between countries, but we urge national and local health authorities to work even closer to curb the spread of the virus and support the capacity of health systems.