Managed, not vanquished

Latin America’s covid spectre looms.

Overall, Covid cases are down across Latin America, but just last week the Pan American Health Organisation warned that the region could see an uptick caused by the highly infectious BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants. Are the regoin’s healthcare systems prepared for a potential new wave?

A director at the Mexican Institute of Social Security – which plays a major role in developing and supporting healthcare policy – explained, “Mexico is going through the fifth wave of Covid infections, but unlike past cycles this has not affected the availability of medical resources, although the number of infections is high, the number of hospitalisations and serious cases is very low, so the emergency is largely considered to be over.”

“Mexico is going through the fifth wave of covid infections, but unlike past cycles this has not affected the availability of medical resources, although the number of infections is high, the number of hospitalisations and serious cases is very low…”

Director, Institute of Social Security, Mexico

That said, there are a high number of re-contagion cases, but these appear to be less aggressive than before.

The most serious challenge remains the high cost of the pandemic to healthcare systems– many of which will take years to recover to pre-pandemic efficacy. The pandemic exerted a particularly profound effect on admission levels, particularly for gastroenterological and neurological cases. Indeed, there are still many diseases caused by – or exacerbated by – Covid, many of them hidden and those suffering not seeking appropriate medical care. It is therefore difficult to estimate the true public cost of Covid care.

A former senior health executive with experience across Latin America explained, “The current wave is worrying in some Latin American countries. Take Brazil for example, where the number of new cases of contagion has been very high and continues to rise – there are now 50,000 new weekly cases in the country. The growth rate is reminiscent of the second wave which hit the country so hard and resulted in some of the highest fatality rates in the world.”

“The current wave is worrying in some Latin American countries. Take Brazil for example, where the number of new cases of contagion has been very high and continues to rise – there are now 50,000 new weekly cases in the country.”

Former senior health executive, Latin America

The region’s second most populous country, Mexico, has also seen new cases grow rapidly, last week alone, more than 25,000 new cases were registered. Mexico had three peaks, the third very large, with more than 40,000 new cases per week, during those waves the healthcare system was under serious strain and there is little sign that funding nor management has seen dramatic improvements.

In Colombia and several countries across the region, the emergency measures have already been lifted. In the case of Colombia part of the population that congregates the most in cities still has the habit of wearing a mask when they leave the house. These self-care factors are very important and may be responsible for the divergence we see in reinfection trends.

There are political pressures, especially from the restaurant and bar sectors, whose impact has been seeping into the public and political discourse of the region. If presidents, with broad political support, do not continue to make calls for prevention, contagion will increase at very high rates.

The same happens with the issue of reinforcements: if these public health issues are not a national priority for the political leadership of a country, it is difficult for citizens to really feel the need to go to a health centre again to receive a new vaccine dose. Covid remains one sphere where the less partisan political interference, the better.

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