Rio de Janeiro crumbles under pandemic

By María Angélica Troncoso

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 8 (efe-epa).- The coronavirus is advancing at galloping speed in Rio de Janeiro, where hospitals are collapsing with hundreds of patients awaiting care.

Emergency units are at full capacity and the economic crisis the iconic Brazilian city has witnessed for years has taken a dark turn amid the pandemic.

Despite the city facing a critical stage in its fight against the virus, Rio’s Mayor said it had only implemented 46 percent of contingency plans.

Clinics and health centres are suffering from a lack of equipment and a shortage of personnel, and corridors are spilling over with Covid-19 patients waiting to be seen.

The so-called marvellous city is in mourning with the death toll and caseload battering favelas, the shanty towns where the poorest live, many of whom die in line waiting to be admitted to ICU.

Of Rio de Janeiro’s population of around 11 million when including its metropolitan area, more than 1,150 have died, 11,257 are infected and nearly 500 are in a critical condition waiting to be admitted to ICU, according to official data.

“Many people are dying while waiting in line, and they (doctors) don’t even get to ask themselves: ‘Will I let them live or die’ because they don’t even get to the stage of being considered for an ICU bed. Those people are dying waiting for a spot,” Alessandra Nascimento Rocha, deputy coordinator of Public Defender for Health of the municipality, tells Efe.

Legal resources have failed to save lives and in the past three weeks at least 15 people have died waiting to be transferred to ICU, she said.

The government’s lack of planning is obvious and adds to a range of decisions that have crippled an already deficient national health service.

Although the Mayor’s Office complains of a lack of beds, watchdogs have found irregularities in the purchase, use and distribution of units, many of which remain empty in state hospitals in the city, while hundreds of infected patients wait to be treated.

A shortage of doctors, technicians and nurses has made matters even worse, a problem Mayor Marcelo Crivella has acknowledged is connected to policies his government has implemented.

Budget cuts saw Crivella fire over 6,000 health professionals during his term, and the latest dismissals were recorded in late February when it was common knowledge the pandemic was reaching Brazil.

The fiscal crisis the municipality has been plagued with pushed the government to cease the payment of wages for several months and a large volume of health services were outsourced to private companies.

The private sector rehired many professionals but slashed salaries by almost 50 percent.

Thousands ended up resigning, particularly the most specialized, such as professionals working in ICUs.

In an attempt to draw in more doctors and nurses, a call for 5,000 professionals was issued. But the response was far from good.

“The services were outsourced, people lost stability and there was a lack of interest from the most specialized professionals to build a career in the public sector,” Carlos Vasconcellos, a general practitioner and union spokesperson, tells Efe.

“That generated disorganization at the time of the crisis and there is a lack of credibility that the people who are being mobilized to work have rights, including those of quarantine,” he adds.

The clash of information between regional and federal governments has been another link in the chain of unfortunate events affecting the city.

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