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Brazil condemned for ‘unmitigated spread of COVID-19’

brazil covid
Photo via AK Rockefeller/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

An international organization of doctors and health professionals, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is criticizing Brazil’s government for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to the BMJ, “MSF called on the government to urgently adopt evidence-based public health measures to control the disease and treatment guidelines for those infected.” 

Christos Christou, international president of MSF, was pointedly critical of the Brazilian government, noting that “the refusal to act appropriately has led to ‘the unmitigated spread of COVID-19 over the past year,’” sending “far too many to an early grave.”

“The federal government has all but refused to adopt evidence-based comprehensive public health guidelines, leaving Brazil’s dedicated medical staff to manage the sickest in intensive care units and improvise solutions when beds are unavailable,” he continued. “This has put Brazil into a permanent state of mourning and led to the near-collapse of Brazil’s health system.” 

The organization, aka Doctors Without Borders in the U.S., provides “medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare,” according to its website, noting that “our actions are guided by medical ethics and the principles of impartiality, independence, and neutrality.” 

The Brazil COVID numbers are still very high

Christou’s criticisms come at a time in which Brazil is registering a seven-day case average of 63,297—down from all-time highs in March that were north of 75,000 but still close to double the 36,003 seven-day case average the nation had at the beginning of 2021.

Data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center shows that Brazil, with more than 14 million cases since the start of the pandemic, is only third behind the U.S. and India for total case numbers. With 378,003 total deaths from COVID-19, it’s second only to the U.S. in the current global tally. 

The BMJ article noted that in the week preceding its April 16 article, Brazilians accounted for 11% of the world’s COVID-19 infections and 26.2% of deaths. 

The Associated Press, in an April 20 report, relayed that “Brazil’s slowly unfolding vaccination program appears to have slowed the pace of deaths among the nation’s elderly, according to death certificate data, but COVID-19 is still taking a rising toll as unprotected younger people get sick.” 

The article noted that people 80 years old and over accounted for a quarter of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths in February, dropping to less than 20% in March. But it also noted that vaccination efforts have only reached a fraction of Brazil’s population to date, with less than 9 million of Brazil’s 210 million residents fully vaccinated (that’s about 4%). 

The disease is taking its toll on younger segments of the population, similar to recent U.S. trends. The Guardian reported that most COVID-19 intensive care unit patients as of mid-April were under 40 years old, according to the Brazilian Association of Intensive Care Medicine and corroborated by frontline doctors.

“Brazilians have been particularly shocked by the case of Paulo Gustavo, a 42-year-old television star who has spent the past month fighting for his life in a Rio ICU despite being previously fit and healthy,” that article relayed. 

“The patients seem to be suffering a more drawn-out illness,” Clarisse Bressan, a tropical medicine specialist working at Rio’s Fiocruz COVID hospital, told the Guardian. “They deteriorate later—after 12 or 14 days rather than 10—and I’ve seen young people with more symptoms. They don’t necessarily end up with more serious conditions but I’m seeing fewer completely asymptomatic young people than I did at the start of the pandemic.”

MSF says that Brazil’s COVID-19 dangers are compounded “by the overwhelming amount of disinformation circulating in communities across the country. Masks, physical distancing, and the restriction of movement and non-essential activities are shunned and politicized, while hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin are being used as prophylaxis and treatment for COVID-19 despite a lack of effectiveness.” 

Pierre Van Heddegem, emergency coordinator for MSF’s COVID-19 response in Brazil, remarked, “The devastation that MSF teams first witnessed in the Amazonas region has become the reality across the majority of Brazil. The lack of planning and coordination between federal health authorities and their state and municipal counterparts is having life-or-death consequences.” 

Sources: The BMJ, Médecins Sans Frontières, Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center, Associated Press, Guardian


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