Covid-19 to become 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 may become the deadliest event in modern Brazilian history. With over 36,000 confirmed deaths as of yesterday, the disease has already killed more than the Spanish flu, which claimed 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.

Though casualty rates remain significantly lower in comparison to the flu — as Brazil’s population was around 28 million in 1918, less than seven times the current number — infectious disease specialists are wary due to the virus’s continuous spread across Brazil. “We could reach a level of public health tragedy never seen before in Brazil’s history,” said Unaí Tupinambás, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. “We may reach the humiliating position of being 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 in the 1860s, Brazil’s deadliest event since independence. The war claimed over 100,000 Brazilian lives, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington is projecting that Brazil will record over 165,000 coronavirus deaths by early August.

From leader to bad example

Last month, a New York Times report indicated that Brazil has 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. Over the last decade, Brazil developed a strategy to combat the Zika virus which was 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 is now threatening to leave the organization amid the deadliest health crisis in its history.

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