Coronavirus exacts heavy toll on Brazilian medical personnel

By Carlos Meneses Sanchez

Sao Paulo, Aug 21 (efe-epa).- The stress of six months of fighting Covid-19 has taken an emotional and physical toll on Brazil’s health-care professionals, nearly 260,000 of whom have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and at least 226 of whom have died.

“We’re in a phase in which we’re really tired, physically and emotionally spent, like most of the population,” Graziela Domingues, a physiotherapist at Sao Paulo’s Emilio Ribas Infectious Disease Institute, told Efe.

Brazil has had a particularly high number of coronavirus patients due in large part to its big population (210 million inhabitants) and ranks second only behind the United States (330 million) in terms of confirmed cases and deaths attributed to Covid-19.

Despite recent signs of the stabilization of that respiratory disease, whose R value (the average number of people that an infected person will pass the virus on to) is now below one, medical personnel remain vigilant and are anxious for the arrival of a vaccine.

Some even have taken part in vaccine trials to help expedite that process.

Among the Brazilian health-care workers who have succumbed to the disease is Maria Aparecida Duarte, who was affectionately known as “Cidinha.” She had worked for 15 years as a nursing assistant at an outpatient clinic in Carapicuiba, part of Sao Paulo’s metropolitan region.

Cidinha was 63 and suffered from hypertension and diabetes, said her daughter Andreza Reina, who described her mother as “the backbone of the family.”

In mid-April, when the country started reporting between 1,000 and 3,000 coronavirus cases per day, Cidinha started to feel unwell.

The nursing assistant was diagnosed with the flu. She was out of work for two weeks but despite being part of the at-risk population she returned out of fear of being laid off, Reina said.

After one of Cidinha’s shifts, her condition rapidly worsened to the point that she could not even get out of bed. She was subsequently hospitalized, but her condition quickly deteriorated and she was transferred to an intensive-care unit.

“During that period, she was unable to speak or even open her eyes,” her daughter said. The last time Reina saw her mother was in an observation room as medical personnel were preparing her ICU bed.

“I held her hand and told her I wasn’t going to leave. My mother clasped mine and it was as if she were saying goodbye,” Reina said.

She and her family accuse authorities of negligence, saying that Cidinha had been forced to work with her own cloth mask. “They put my mom on the front lines and didn’t give her (proper) equipment. It’s as if she were in the army and they didn’t provide her with armor,” Reina said.

Similar accusations have been leveled at other hospitals and clinics since the Health Ministry reported the country’s first coronavirus case on Feb. 26.

Brazil had serious difficulties in the first 45 to 60 days of the pandemic in providing professionals with personal protective equipment (PPE), Dr. Walkirio Almeida, coordinator of the Federal Council of Nursing’s Covid-19 crisis committee, told Efe.

During the first four weeks of the emergency, that entity received as many as 1,000 complaints per week from nurses who said they did not have access to adequate protective gear, Almeida said.

Six months into the crisis, a total of 257,156 health professionals have tested positive, nearly half of whom have been nursing assistants and nurses, and at least 226 have died, according to the Health Ministry’s latest figures in mid-August.

At Emilio Ribas, a public hospital that specializes in epidemic diseases, there have been a total of 134 coronavirus cases among the hospital’s 1,660 workers. Three of them – a female doctor and two nursing assistants – died.

Domingues, a supervisor in the hospital’s rehabilitation area, where patients receive respiratory care after undergoing an intubation process, did not hesitate when an opportunity arose to participate in the trial of a vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech laboratory.

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