Brazil’s health system has plunged into the most severe crisis in its history, with doctors overwhelmed and patients dying while waiting for intensive care beds as the country’s skeptical Covid president, Jair Bolsonaro, continued to reject calls for a shutdown that it would save lives. .
As the daily number of infections and deaths soared to new heights this week, researchers at Brazil’s main health institute, Fiocruz, said that South America’s largest country was facing an unprecedented “catastrophe.”
Covid intensive care units in virtually all of Brazil’s 26 states and the federal district that contains the capital Brasilia are now at maximum or dangerously close to capacity, the institute said. warning: “The situation is absolutely critical.”
Brazil’s far-right leader and his allies continue to downplay an outbreak that has killed more than 287,000 people, the second highest number on Earth and, partly as a result of the most contagious P1 variant, is now accelerating to become by far the most lethal. phase.
“Our situation is not so critical. Compared to other countries, it’s actually quite comfortable, ”said Ricardo Barros, Bolsonaro’s leader in the Lower House, on Wednesday when 2,798 deaths and a record 90,830 new cases were reported.
But interviews with intensive care physicians in four of the most affected states (Mato Grosso do Sul, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo) disproved that claim.
“Things are desperate,” said Hermeto Paschoalick, head of the intensive care unit in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, in the midwestern United States, where those facilities were this week at 93%.
Paschoalick, who works at a public hospital in the city of Dourados, said he had seen his team members shed tears of exhaustion and despair as they struggled to cope with the cascade of patients. On Tuesday, its 20-bed unit had a free bed and is requesting to admit 22 critically ill Covid patients.
“It’s scary,” said the doctor, pointing to an even more dramatic situation in Ponta Porã, a town 120 kilometers from the highway on the border with Paraguay, where a 30-bed ICU Covid hospital was intubating an average of 10 patients per day.
In the state capital, Campo Grande, things got even worse. “Yesterday they told me that there is a health clinic with 20 ambulances parked outside. Patients come from small inland towns and there is nowhere to put them, so they just keep them in ambulances, ”Paschoalick said. A private hospital had closed its doors because even his emergency department was full of Covid patients hooked up to ventilators.
Danilo Maksud, a cardiologist from São Paulo, said Brazil’s richest and most populous state, where ICUs were 89% full with more than 11,000 Covid patients, was in an equally dire situation. “It’s not chaos, we are way beyond chaos,” admitted the 39-year-old doctor who said all 20 beds in his ICU were taken after a month-long increase in income.
Maksud suggested that a “complete lockdown” was probably the only way to stem the virus rampage, although Bolsonaro has resisted that idea, apparently fearful of the impact it could have on the economy and his hopes for re-election next year. With 212 million citizens, Brazil is home to 2.7% of the world’s population, but has suffered more than 10% of its deaths from Covid.
“I don’t know if I ever imagined that we would face a moment like this,” reflected Maksud on Wednesday after São Paulo suffered a record 679 deaths in one day. “It’s like we’re trapped in a hole and the walls are closing in on us.”
A thousand miles away, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, where ICUs were 96% full, the story was the same, with Covid hitting virtually the entire country simultaneously.
“People are saying that Brazil is going to collapse,” intensive care physician Pedro Carvalho said Thursday morning as he began another 12-hour shift at a university hospital in the riverside city of Petrolina.
“But we have already collapsed, completely collapsed,” said Carvalho, 41, whose hospital added 10 new ICU beds on Monday morning and had filled them all before sunset.
The doctor dismissed claims by Bolsonaro’s ally that Brazilian hospitals were comfortable. “Calling it fake news would be too nice. It’s just an outright lie. They know very well how bad things are, ”Carvalho complained.
He added: “I would like to invite these deniers to come and cover some changes in our ICU, not really treating patients, of course, but helping us inform families that their loved ones have died. Maybe then they could stop lying. “
Heartbreaking stories of lives that ended suddenly and unnecessarily emerged from each of the ICUs. Paschoalick said most of his dependents were over 60, but young people were dying too. “Right now, I have three people on respirators, including a 22-year-old woman and a 25-year-old woman. They were both pregnant when they arrived. One lost the baby, the other managed to give birth. They are both intubated and in very bad condition, ”he said.
André Machado, a Covid doctor from the state of Rio Grande do Sul, where intensive care units are 100% full, said his hospital was so overloaded that he had to choose who would be given a chance to survive in intensive care. . “Today, 49 patients are in the ER waiting for a bed in the ICU,” he said Thursday morning. There was only room for four.
Maksud, who works at the Santa Casa de Misericórdia hospital in São Paulo, said that they were not yet forcing him to play God but that he had friends in other places. taking such calls and he suspected that the “bottom of the rock” would soon arrive for him as well.
“I am afraid, afraid of what may happen next,” he said, as his country looked into the abyss.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism