Brazil: As deaths increase, MSF scales up COVID-19 response in Amazonas

An MSF nurse checks the temperature of a patient at a shelter in Manaus, Brazil.
Brazil 2020 © MSF
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The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières(MSF) is scaling up its response to the coronavirus outbreak in the state of Amazonas, northwestern Brazil, to provide intensive care for critically ill patients, medical isolation for mild or moderate cases of COVID-19, and health promotion in urban and rural areas.  

“The situation in Amazonas is very worrying,” said Dr Cecilia Hirata, MSF field coordinator in Brazil. “We believe that our work can make a difference and we are doing our best to become operational as quickly as possible.”

Brazil now has the second highest number of cases of coronavirus the world, and the state of Amazonas has among the highest numbers of deaths in the country, despite its relatively small population. Over the past few weeks, mortality rates have reached alarming levels in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas, even as local hospitals have increased the number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds. As of May 26, at least 1,780 people in Amazonas have died from COVID-19.

On May 28, MSF will start working in Hospital 28 de Agosto, providing staff to manage the care of critically ill COVID-19 patients in 12 ICU beds and patients with moderate COVID-19 symptoms in 36 beds. MSF teams are also preparing to provide similar support to other hospitals in the city.

MSF also works in six shelters for refugees and homeless people in Manaus to provide health promotion sessions and hygiene support to help prevent the transmission of coronavirus, as well as medical consultations and screening to identify people who are suspected to have COVID-19. By the beginning of June, in partnership with the state government, MSF will set up an isolation and observation center for vulnerable people with mild COVID-19 symptoms who do not need to be hospitalized.

This week, MSF will also launch a response in remote areas of rural Amazonas to support quality medical care for patients with both moderate and severe COVID-19 symptoms. MSF plans to work in at least two locations, including the municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira. The health of indigenous communities who struggle to reach health care is a major concern for MSF. Teams are consulting with indigenous leaders and organizations to help guide our assistance to these communities.

Slowing the spread of COVID-19 is another important component of MSF’s response in Amazonas state. Reducing the rate at which people are infected will lower the number of critically ill patients who require medical attention and alleviate the burden on the collapsed health system. Health promotion to disseminate correct information on preventative measures is essential. MSF is planning to increase its health promotion activities in both urban and rural areas in Amazonas. To reach people who live in remote areas, MSF will provide trainings for community leaders who can share this knowledge with their communities.

MSF is working in more than 70 countries to respond to the new coronavirus pandemic. In Brazil, MSF is also responding to COVID-19 outbreaks in the cities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Boa Vista.