A fragile Amazon holds the pulse in the face of covid

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An elderly indigenous woman is treated in the interior of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, severely punished by the covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Diego Baravelli / MSF

MANAUS, Brazil, 22 February 2021 (IPS) – The situation of covid-19 in the state of Amazonas, northwestern Brazil, is no longer as critical as it was at the beginning of February, but it is still fragile, warned on Monday the 22nd the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which operates in the region.

The emergency coordinator of MSF in Brazil, Pierre Van Heddegem, said that “only a few weeks ago there was a total saturation of the hospitals in Manaus (the regional capital), which no longer had the capacity to offer medical care to all the people who needed it.”

“Today the situation is still very serious, but fortunately it is not as critical as it was two weeks ago,” said Van Heddegem.

Statistics show that the number of deaths from covid in the Amazon, 2,522 in January 2021, was slightly lower than the 2,850 that perished in the April-May 2020 two-month period, when the peak of the previous wave occurred.

So far in February, 2,000 deaths have already been exceeded again, a figure that shows the seriousness of the situation and that raises the total number of deaths in the Amazon since the start of the pandemic to more than 10,000.

Throughout Brazil, 246,500 people have died of covid, out of a total of more than 10 million infected in this country of 212 million inhabitants, according to figures from the US Johns Hopkins University.

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In the state of Amazonas, of 1,559,167 square kilometers, on the border with Colombia, Peru and Venezuela, with 4.2 million inhabitants and some 30 indigenous peoples, only the capital, Manaus, with 2.2 million inhabitants, has hospitals with intensive care beds.

Manaus’s health system collapsed for the second time in January this year, according to the MSF report, with hospitals operating at full capacity due to the rapid escalation of the disease.

Many patients in rural areas who were in serious condition were left without the option of receiving medical attention due to lack of places. The acceleration of infections also resulted in a need for oxygen much greater than the local production capacity, which caused hundreds of deaths due to lack of supplies.

The Brazilian government arranged a kind of airlift to carry oxygen cylinders to hospitals in Manaus, and hundreds of patients in serious condition but who could be transferred were taken by the same route to hospitals in other Brazilian cities.

Even Venezuela sent several trucks loaded with oxygen cylinders to Manaus, as the Amazon capital is also known.

The situation is already less critical than in early February, including the isolated rural areas of the state, when due to saturation in Manaus it was impossible to refer seriously ill patients to the regional capital.

“That caused a devastating domino effect inside the state that resulted in the loss of many lives, of people who, had they been cared for properly, would likely have survived,” said Van Heddegem.

MSF, which has provided personnel and intensive care protocols, says that for health workers the routine on the ground in the last month has been one of constant coexistence with death, work overload and fear of contagion.

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“The public health service workers have incredible dedication, but they are absolutely exhausted,” said MSF psychologist Andrea Chagas. “In many cases, they cannot find relief at home from the anguish experienced at work, as many have sick relatives or have lost loved ones,” he added.

The government shipped 280,000 doses of the Chinese coronavac vaccine to Amazonas and the vaccination process has already begun in indigenous communities.


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