Hellen Ñañez has suffered enough tragedy for all of his life. The 28-year-old Peruvian mother mourned the deaths of 13 loved ones since last year’s pandemic: uncles, cousins, a grandfather. Now his father is fighting for his life.
Recently, in a dusty cemetery in the Pacific port city of Pisco, Ñañez visited the graves of relatives lost to COVID-19.
“The truth is, I have no more tears,” said Ñañez, who dropped out of psychology to work and help pay his father’s medical bills. “It takes away our families. It takes away our dreams, our peace and our stability.”
Ñañez’s story is a grim reflection of the tragedy unfolding in Latin America, a resource-rich but politically unstable region of some 650 million people stretching from Mexico to the southern ends of Antarctica near Chile. and Argentina.
The region has recorded 958,023 coronavirus-related deaths, according to a Reuters tally, around 28% of the global death toll. It is expected to hit the million mark this month, making it the second region to do so after Europe.
But unlike richer Europe and North America, Latin American countries did not have the financial firepower to keep people from sliding deep into poverty; underfunded health systems have been strained and immunization programs have stalled.
Regional leaders from Brazil Jair Bolsonaro to Argentina’s Alberto Fernandez and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador have faced criticism for their handling of the pandemic, while a series of health ministers have been sacked.
“We Peruvians are dying, Mr. President. We are dying every day,” Miriam Mota, a relative of a coronavirus patient in Lima, told Reuters, imploring the country’s leader Francisco Sagasti, to do more to help contain the crisis.
“There are no vaccines. There are no intensive care beds. There are no drugs. Please, for the good of mankind, help us!”
Peru has officially confirmed 1.85 million cases of COVID-19 and some 64,000 deaths, but the toll could be three times higher in reality, experts say. The country’s national death registry has linked 171,000 deaths to the virus.
‘People are fed up’
The crisis in Latin America was sparked by the regional giant, Brazil, which has recorded the most deaths in the world after the United States and where right-wing President Bolsonaro has long denounced the lockdown measures and supported non-remedies. proven.
The emergence of viral mutations in the country, including the more transmissible P1 variant, has been linked to the severity of the outbreak in Brazil. It has also caused outbreaks of infections in neighboring countries, including Uruguay and Bolivia.
Now there are signs that the pandemic, which has torn regional economies apart and spiked poverty, will have a longer-term ripple effect, fueling unrest, shaking industries and pushing voters to the polls.
Colombia has been troubled by deadly protests against now pending tax reform and poverty; Chile is moving towards a sharp increase in taxes on copper miners; Peru’s polarized presidential race is led by a socialist teacher who is a political outsider.
“People are fed up and obviously tired of everything that has happened in recent times,” said Paula Velez outside a burned-out police station in the Colombian capital Bogota, which was set on fire during the protests.
‘I don’t want to lose it’
Public health experts say Latin America has suffered from the pandemic, both in terms of health and growth, shaking fragile economies with high debt levels, high inequality and where many are working in jobs. informal less secure.
Unlike North America, Europe or Asia, the region also lacks high-tech infrastructure to rapidly develop or manufacture vaccines.
A deal to produce the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca Plc (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine by companies in Argentina and Mexico has been stalled by manufacturing delays, and many countries in Latin America depend on insufficient supplies of Chinese and Russian vaccines.
A cottage industry has grown for wealthier Latin Americans to travel to Florida and Texas to get vaccinated. But for the less well off, this is not an option.
“I’ve been looking for work for a year and a half and can’t wait to get my vaccine,” said Marco Antonio Pinto, a resident of Rio de Janeiro, who, like others in the city, was disappointed with the last week when a vaccination center quickly ran out. vaccines.
“They play with people, thinking that we are animals. We are not animals: we are human beings. We pay taxes. We pay for everything,” he said.
Back in Peru, Ñañez is now fighting to save the life of his father, who has been in the intensive care unit of a hospital for more than two weeks, receiving medicine to reduce the ravages of the disease and a ventilator. mechanical.
Ñañez, who has a two-year-old, has turned to making soap at home and selling it on the streets or in shops in Pisco, a coastal town set amidst arid desert landscapes.
She said her bank loans had dried up and the family had taken on huge debts of some 100,000 soles ($ 26,500) to buy medicine, medical oxygen – and funeral expenses. While hope was low, she was determined to fight for her father.
“I’m not going to lose him. I don’t want to lose anyone else. My father can’t leave me,” Ñañez said sobbing in front of the hospital where she came to check on the health of her father, who is in the hospital. coma.
“I’ve been here for 17 days in front of the hospital and I know he’s going to get there. I don’t think life can be so unfair if it took so much from me and now it wants to take my dad too.
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