DW: Is the pandemic out of control in Brazil?
David Sufiate: It’s hard to say what it means to be out of control in the context of a pandemic. But we are bound to see too much stress on our entire healthcare system, from private hospitals to government hospitals. The situation is very serious.
At Fiocruz Hospital we have been fully charged for over a month, sometimes more. New patients are only admitted to the intensive care unit when others are discharged or die. I can’t say it’s worse now that we’ve been weighed down for about three weeks.
Parents are vaccinated. Who are the patients being treated in the hospital at this time?
As of yesterday, there were no patients over 80 years of age in the ICU of Fiocruz hospital. That shows very clearly the role of vaccines in pandemics. Currently, that is younger people who’s affected. Politicians have encouraged them to leave their homes and catch the virus, which has resulted in them getting sick too.
Which age group is most affected?
The majority were between 30 and 70 years old. If I were to isolate an age group, I would say the 40 to 60 age group. They are the ones most affected and hospitalized.
Has the virus changed?
It seems clear that some mutations are more contagious. At Fiocruz we can sort. Ninety percent of patients have the current P.1 mutation. So, the virus has mutated and is more contagious. Whether that means the progression of the disease is worse is difficult to say for now. According to several small studies, this mutation spreads more quickly. It infected more people.
So, statistically speaking, a lot more people are getting seriously ill. Whether this is due to mutations remains unclear. There isn’t enough research yet.
Are people staying in intensive care longer now?
Younger patients have larger reserves and it takes longer for their organs to fail. They have a lot more staying power, that’s one way of putting it. That means they stay in intensive care for longer.
What do you need most in the ICU?
We desperately need personnel for intensive care. We are not short of medicine or equipment. But many doctors are not used to working in intensive care. It makes a big difference.
The same is true in other fields – for physiotherapists, caregivers and all kinds of other fields. One year since the start of the pandemic, we still lack qualified staff.
But many of those working in the health sector have become tired after a long time. So many of my colleagues gave up their jobs as doctors. Many are no longer working in intensive care. They don’t want to hear about COVID again. Very dramatic indeed.
The role of government
What can the central government do for you?
They have to vaccinate people! All funds and all political will must go towards a mass vaccination program. Recently, 4,100 people died in one day! With vaccines, we can change the situation.
The central government has stated that there will be no lockdown. Do you think locking will be appropriate?
There’s no doubt about that! Take the city of Araraquara, for example. There’s a lock in there, and there’s one more at the moment. And they just brought the death toll to zero. We need more funding. We can’t let 700 people die because they are on the waiting list for ICU beds. We can’t finish our job. Vaccines will not stop people from catching COVID-19 but will stop so many people from catching it at the same time.
And the lockdown also means fewer people walking around. This has been discussed many times. I refused, in April 2021, 14 months after the pandemic started, to explain to people that a lockdown would help. It does help, and it is a useful instrument.
Other issues that need to be discussed are: How can the central government ensure that the people do not go hungry? There are more than 20 million Brazilians below the poverty line. This is very worrying.
Have you noticed that more poor people get sick?
Yes, that is true of all infectious diseases. The richer, the safer. The rich can stay at home. They can afford it. The poor can’t. They have to work to survive.
As someone on the front lines, do you see a lack of government support?
As an infectiologist on the front lines, I was devastated. It’s regrettable government, community is not a priority. It doesn’t prioritize what it should be, and it’s very serious.
New Minister of Health
Now there‘Doctors at the Ministry of Health, is there any more hope?
If he can really do his job, then yes. But we know that in such positions political commitment is more important than one’s expertise. I can only hope that the new minister of health will have the freedom to advocate what to support. I hope he doesn’t become a puppet of individual political interests.
Some scientists estimate a higher number of deaths. Are you a pessimist or and optimistic?
I would say that we can expect a high number of deaths for another two or three months. There may even be 5,000 or 6,000 deaths per day.
In such a case, there will be complete collapse. Is that gonna happen?
This won’t happen; it happened. The collapse was a long time ago. We are in the middle.
DW Thomas Milz spoke with Brazilian infectiologist David Sufiate, who works in several Rio de Janeiro hospitals.
This article is adapted from German.
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