As some countries look towards an end to the coronavirus pandemic, Brazil is facing an ever-worsening crisis, with overwhelmed health systems and a soaring death toll leading to a significant number of babies dying from Covid-19.
The South American country’s seven-day rolling average for deaths reached more than 3,000 this month, as the medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned that a “humanitarian catastrophe” was unfolding due to government mismanagement of the pandemic.
Dr Christos Christou, MSF’s international president, said far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro’s government had all but refused to introduce “evidence-based comprehensive public health guidelines”.
“This has put Brazil into a permanent state of mourning and led to the near collapse of Brazil’s health system,” Dr Christou said.
He added that the country’s response needed an “urgent, science-based and well-coordinated reset to prevent further avoidable deaths”.
Earlier this week, Dr Fatima Marinho, a senior adviser to the health NGO Vital Strategies, told the BBC that there had been an alarmingly high number of children and babies affected by the virus in Brazil.
Official figures from the Brazilian Ministry of Health show that between February 2020 and 15 March 2021, at least 852 children up to the age of nine died from Covid-19, including 518 babies under one year old.
However, Dr Marinho warned that these numbers were likely to be lower than the actual death toll due to underreporting caused by a lack of testing for the virus.
She estimated that there had been more than 2,000 Covid deaths of children under nine years old in Brazil, including 1,302 babies, by calculating the excess deaths by unspecified acute respiratory syndrome during the pandemic.
Although young children are generally at low risk from Covid-19, the scale of Brazil’s epidemic has increased the chance of younger people becoming seriously ill.
The country’s healthcare system has also been overwhelmed by the high number of cases, with hospitals hit by shortages of basic medicines and oxygen supplies.
“The more cases we have and, as a result, the more hospitalisations, the greater the number of deaths in all age groups, including children,” Renato Kfouri, president of the Scientific Department of Immunisations of the Brazilian Society of Pediatrics, told the BBC.
“But if the pandemic were controlled, this scenario could evidently be minimised.”
On Thursday, hospitals were reportedly running out of drugs needed to sedate Covid-19 patients, forcing the government to urgently seek imported supplies.
Marcelo Queiroga, the country’s health minister, said Brazil was in talks with Spain and other countries to secure the emergency drugs and added that hospitals were also still struggling to get enough oxygen for patients.
Sao Paulo state’s health secretary Jean Carlo Gorinchteyn said at a news conference on Wednesday that the situation was dire in Brazil’s most-populous state, with officials warning this week that more than 640 hospitals were on the verge of collapse.
“We need the federal government’s support,” Mr Gorinchteyn said.
“This is not a necessity for Sao Paulo; it is a necessity for the whole country.”
Brazil has recorded more than 13.5 million cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, with 365,444 deaths, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, as of 15 April.
Additional reporting by agencies
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