109-year-old woman recovers from COVID-19 in Brazil's Amazon region

Brazil 2021 © Mariana Abdalla/MSF

TEXT: February 2021, Tefé Regional Hospital, Amazonas, Brazil

Caroline Kennedy, MSF doctor: The work of being a doctor, being a nurse, and being human in this whole process has been something that we focus on a lot. We already know the patients by name, they are patients that we follow up with the family...

Júlia Queiroz, MSF doctor: A patient who really left a mark on me was Bonifácia. She is a 109-year-old patient who is not from Tefé, but arrived in Tefé when she was 14 with her sister.

Her sister fell in love with the only teacher in town and ran away with him, since it was a secret relationship and she couldn't stay in the city. Bonifácia didn’t go to school and soon after started to work in agriculture. She learned how to read and write at the age of 100. She is a patient with a beautiful story.

And she had her birthday here with us, now during COVID. It was really cool because she is very lucid. She said “Oh, since I'm not well I can't eat cake. But my dear, I have already eaten 108 cakes.”

She is always joking. It’s really something.

Taiane Alencar, hospital psychologist: She remains strong and is a very dear patient because she is very emotionally stable.

Taiane Alencar: How old were you when you got this tattoo?

Bonifácia de Oliveira: A few years ago...

Taiane Alencar: Were you young?

Bonifácia de Oliveira: I was only a girl... an irresponsible one.

Taiane Alencar: Irresponsible, huh? Stay strong and everything will be fine. You are our sweetheart. We want this moment to happen, okay?

Caroline Kennedy: So, the patient's hope helps a lot.

The more hopeful and the stronger the patient is, the easier it is for us to work with, manage, and heal that patient.

TEXT: After a few days, Bonifácia was discharged and went home with her family.

Carolina Kennedy: Dona Bonifácia went home. I’m so happy! 109-years-old, she overcame something impossible, went home, and lived through one of the biggest struggles of her life. She went home happy, laughing. It was such a happy moment,

TEXT: During the second wave of COVID-19 in Brazil’s Amazonas state, between November 2020 and March 2021, MSF supported Tefé Regional Hospital and helped provide better patient care and more comfort to those fighting the disease.


Bonifácia de Oliveira celebrated her 109th birthday in the COVID-19 ward of Tefé Regional Hospital in Brazil's Amazonas state. The centenarian’s strong spirit and sense of humor made a deep impact on the team as they worked to respond to a devastating second wave of COVID-19 sweeping the region earlier this year. “The work of being a doctor, being a nurse, and being human in this whole process has been something that we focus on a lot,” said Dr. Carolina Kennedy, a physician with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). “We already know the patients by name . . . we follow them with the family.”

Tefé was among the remote towns in the Amazon region affected by the collapse of the health system in the state capital, Manaus, in January. At the height of the emergency, even critically ill patients could not be referred to better-equipped hospitals in Manaus for treatment. The MSF team in Tefé helped staff at the regional hospital establish protocols that improved the quality of patient care, giving people like Bonifácia a better chance of survival. “I’m so happy!” Dr. Kennedy said when her patient was discharged. “She overcame something impossible...and survived one of the biggest struggles of her life.”