Brazil’s hospital hypoxia

COVID-19 hits Brazil even further as patients are left without oxygen

Photo by Ministério da Saúde on Flickr.

— 3 minute read — By Maggie Gannon

Capital of the Amazonas state Manaus saw its hospitals at breaking point last month after an influx of coronavirus patients depleted the health board’s oxygen supply.

Reports of oxygen shortages emerged during an incredibly tenuous period for the nation, with local media beginning to share cries for help from health professionals as cases of infection within the area remained severely high. Professionals urged citizens to stay at home wherever possible, as hospitals particularly in that region, were lacking the most basic of supplies. 

These new soaring infection rates that Brazil has been seeing, have led to many staff being unable to work as they too have become susceptible to the virus, mostly due to a lack of proper PPE. As heartbreaking pleas began to surface on social media, it became clear that hospitals in Manaus were suffering like nothing seen before.

The daily Brazilian publication Folha de Sao Paulo described how hospital staff were using manual ventilation in order to keep patients alive, as well as resorting to flying patients to other regions in order to free up supplies and much needed beds. Distressing images have also surfaced of family relatives carrying oxygen cylinders into hospitals in order to care for their loved ones. The Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello referred to the state of the hospital system in Manaus as on the “brink of collapse”. This was shortly followed by the state then making a dramatic appeal to the U.S. to send over oxygen cylinders. 

The Amazonas state governor Wilson Lima announced a nightly curfew of 7pm local time from 15th January in order to combat the spiralling infection rates, and in light of a new, potentially more transmissable strain of the virus. This new variant has been officially recognised and distinguished by Brazilian healthcare experts, but there is currently no evidence to suggest that existing vaccines would be any less effective in combatting it.

The neighbouring state of Para promptly announced a ban of boats coming down the river from the Amazonas region due to the new strain.  Japanese authorities also reported that a new strain circulating in their country could be largely traced back to Amazonas, suggesting it could have been circulating since December.

Manaus was heavily struck last year by high infection and death rates and became one of the worst-hit cities in Brazil, a country which itself was one of the worst affected countries worldwide. Unfortunately, this looks to be a similar picture in 2021, with the death toll for Brazil now sitting at well over 200,000 people. 

There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, with Brazil’s health regulator giving the green light to the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Chinese-made Sinovac vaccines, which they hope will, in turn, pave the way to immunising Latin America’s largest nation. Despite political bickering delaying the start of the country’s immunisation programme massively, we can only hope that deaths now begin to fall.