A doctor said a young Brazilian likely had covid-19, but he couldn’t afford the test

A typically quiet Brazilian drug store is suddenly much busier than usual. (Photo courtesy of Pedro Victor Aguiar da Silva)

Newcastle, England, UK – As some nations begin to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, cases are swiftly escalating in Brazil.

According to the World Health Organization, Brazil had 672,846 confirmed cases of covid-19 as of June 8, and 35,930 deaths from the disease. Just a month ago, Brazil had 125,218 total cases and 8,536 deaths.

The country has had community transmission since April 9, according to the World Health Organization. Brazil reported its first case of covid-19 on Feb. 27.

Pedro Victor Aguiar da Silva, 20, lives in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas in Brazil. He largely blamed the troubles with the pandemic on the nation’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, on vast corruption and on disparities between states. Inadequate access for citizens to health care and testing is also part of the problem, he said.

Aguiar da Silva said his 13-year-old sister got sick in late April with coronavirus symptoms and he fell ill a few days after she did. They saw a doctor, who told them their symptoms were likely caused by the coronavirus.

The doctor also told them they would not be tested for free, as their symptoms were not severe enough, Aguiar da Silva said. They were advised to go to a private medical laboratory to be tested, but when they learned it would cost 300 reals (about $59 USD) – nearly a third of what a minimum wage worker would earn in a month in Brazil – they decided the cost was too high.

Pedro Victor Aguiar da Silva in Manaus, Brazil, is interviewed by YJI student reporter Kaitlin Willoughby. (Kaitlin Willoughby/YJI)

Aguiar da Silva, who attends Amazonas State University, suggested that the lack of initial testing may be responsible for the recent spike in cases.

According to Aguiar da Silva, the Brazilian government was not testing children at first, which could explain the low numbers among children. He also said that in the past, people were reluctant to be tested, but that those attitudes are changing.

Additionally, the government had advised people to stay home if they developed symptoms.

Aguiar da Silva said his coronavirus symptoms were similar to having a cold, except that they wouldn’t go away. His lasted for about 15 days, which he said was incredibly demoralizing.

At times he felt what he described as “hopelessness,” he said.

Doctors in Brazil are able to prescribe the anti-malarial medicine chloroquine, Aguiar da Silva said, but its effectiveness against the coronavirus remains in doubt.

Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other experts have warned against using chloroquine – also known as hydroxychloroquine – Bolsonaro has recommended using the drug, as has U.S. President Donald Trump.

Aguiar da Silva said the cost for the medicine is on the rise. Before the pandemic, he said, it cost 36 real (about $32 USD) but by the time they were ill, it was about 120 real (about $105 USD.)

Brazil is divided into states, with systems of local government in place, therefore the president may suggest a rule in relation to the pandemic, but local governors can choose whether or not to follow his guidance.

This is one of the reasons for disparity in the handling of covid-19 in the various states of Brazil.

There is some confusion in Brazil because of the conflict between the media and the president, according to Aguiar da Silva.

For instance, Bolsonaro advocated the use of the drug chloroquine to combat the virus, but the media scrutinized this for not being backed by scientific research.

Unfortunately while there was formerly a broadcast which educated the population on issues relating to the pandemic such as how to make a facemask, it was taken off air, something Aguiar da Silva attributed to a lack of interest.

All that remains is the occasional ad and a disheartening daily death toll, he said, none of which bring unity or faith in the government to the general population.

Aguiar da Silva said vast corruption in Brazil is also contributing to the problem.

During the pandemic, governors have not had to provide evidence to the federal government that they are buying supplies to tackle the pandemic from the cheapest and best quality supplier. Aguiar da Silva said police are investigating his local governor for being involved in a money laundering scheme, involving the purchase of overpriced and not fit for purpose ventilators from a wine shop.

With stores closed, many have turned to creating personal protective equipment in order to continue generating income, he said. But this is a problem because masks are not always of sufficient quality and there is no standardization process.

There is a requirement stating you must wear a mask to enter supermarkets, but this requirement does not discriminate against the quality of the mask, he said.

Regional disparity is an ever-pressing issue, he said. There are some states which have chronic issues with the accessibility of efficient health care, only worsened by the pandemic.

Since he lives in the northernmost region, Aguiar da Silva said it is expensive to ship the resources to combat the pandemic there, as it is so far from the ports on the coast. There is also no railway system at all in his state, so other, slower methods have to be used.

This may be a contributing factor as to why Manaus is one of the worst hit cities in Brazil.

Coastal states such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have faster and easier access to equipment because of their location. States such as São Paulo, which has a railway service, are also much more developed than some areas.

A direct correlation between the wealth and development of areas in Brazil and their ability to access the resources and equipment needed to combat the coronavirus seems undeniable.

A mall cafe that is typically busy is empty now with coronavirus in Brazil. (Photo courtesy of Pedro Victor Aguiar da Silva)

There is also a disparity between the public and private sectors, according to Aguiar da Silva.

Public hospitals are collapsing, he said, due to a lack of healthcare professionals and also a lack of hospitals themselves. Private hospitals are faring better, he said, but are not as widely accessible to all incomes.

As his mother works in the public sector, his family pays a reduced rate for private health care, but this is not the case for all families.

Kaitlin Willoughby is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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