Covid-19 on its way to becoming Brazil’s “largest public health tragedy ever”

Covid-19 on its way to becoming Brazil's "largest public health tragedy ever"
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Covid-19 field hospital in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Paulo Vitor/FP

Experts are afraid Covid-19 might be marching to become the deadliest event in recent Brazilian history. With over 36,000 confirmed deaths as of yesterday, the disease has already killed more than the Spanish flu, which took over 32,000 lives more than a century ago. In absolute terms, the current public health crisis is already the most devastating recorded pandemic in Brazil’s history.

Although casualty rates remain significantly lower in comparison to the flu, as in 1918 Brazil’s population was around 28 million — less than seven times the current number — specialists are wary because the virus continues to spread across Brazil. “We could reach a level of public health tragedy never seen before in Brazil’s history,” Unai Tupinambas, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais told newspaper O Tempo. “We can achieve the humiliating position of the country with the most deaths in the world.”

Some projections estimate that, with time, Covid-19 could claim more victims than the Paraguayan War, Brazil’s deadliest event since independence. The war took over 100,000 Brazilian deaths, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington is projecting that Brazil will top 165,000 coronavirus deaths by early-August.

From leader to bad example

Last month, a New York Times report indicated that Brazil abandoned its position as a global leader in public health to become the leading example of what not to do when facing a global pandemic. The publication highlighted that, during the 1990s AIDS epidemic, the country was one of the first to launch free and universal treatment. And over the last decade, Brazil developed a strategy to combat the Zika virus later implemented in places such as Florida and Texas.

Yesterday, UOL columnist Jamil Chade noted that in the 1970s, Brazil was vital in the establishment of the World Health Organization (WHO) as a flagship public health institution. But the country could leave the organization amid the deadliest health crisis in its history.

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