The novel coronavirus pandemic has revealed structural flaws and socioeconomic inequities in Mexico since its first COVID-19 case was reported on Feb. 27.
A 35-year-old man returning from a trip to Italy was diagnosed in Mexico City. By the end of May, two months after the federal government first implemented a quarantine, the number of cases had risen exponentially, with 84,627 infections.
Currently, Mexico is the fourth in the world in the number of COVID-related deaths, surpassing countries that once were epicenters of the pandemic. With 926,906 cases and 94,015 deaths, Mexico has faced a highly infectious expression of the virus and one of the deadliest.
Although Mexico is the leading country in diabetes and obesity, the pandemic has thrown light into structural flaws and socioeconomic inequities that may also explain the seriousness of its infection rate and mortality.
According to a recent study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, up to 88% of all COVID-related deaths came from patients treated at public hospitals. COVID-19 seems to affect more of those in perilous conditions. Most of the infected are known to have elementary grade education and are part of the informal economy — housekeepers, drivers, retired workers, and unemployed professionals.
The opportunity of avoiding any form of social interaction and working from home are limited to those who have means. For most of the people in the country who rely on public transportation, working from home is not a possibility, and the struggle has a different tone.
“COVID-19 has been called an equalizer disease, that’s not true, not all of us are in the same boat, we don’t experience it the same way,” said Dr. Omar Gabriel Torres, who works with Partners in Health, a nonprofit organization that brings medical attention and care to migrants in Mexico.
This socioeconomic vulnerability is most noticeable in marginalized states, where indigenous communities are concentrated.
“There is no real effort to help rural areas of the country, and no contact tracing or a methodology to understand the dimension of the pandemic in these communities,” said Gabriel.
Since the quarantine and social distancing guidelines were first implemented on March 23, federal government policies have shown flaws. Without a coherent contact tracing strategy and massive testing implementation, there is no real dimension to the fight with the pandemic, and many possible asymptomatic cases go unchecked.
Understanding the degree of contagion and controlling the traffic of people within and outside the country are pivotal for managing the pandemic.
“A lot of cases came from Mexicans returning from the US or even American tourists. This lack of control and lack of strict testing propelled the rate of infection,” said Dr. Diana Martinez, who works at a private COVID-19 hospital.
The cost per testing kit varies from 3,000 pesos ($140) to 5,000 pesos ($235), leaving most Mexicans who depend on minimum wage unable to be tested.
Treatment overall has shown to carry great costs to those affected by the disease, with private institutions charging high amounts for those who require intensive therapy.
The inability of most COVID-19 patients to get treated in private hospitals has left public hospitals with a constant flow of patients and limited budgets.
Public hospitals are the primary sources of treatment for most in Mexico, and as the pandemic hit, the minimal budget and scarce protection equipment left medical staff vulnerable to the disease.
“Official hospitals equipped for COVID-19 were forced to allocate patients to other public institutions due to excess of cases, lack of medical supplies and workers,” explained Leslie Garcia, a nurse at a public hospital in Tamaulipas in northern Mexico.
A lack of resources to supply hospitals with much needed medical equipment has been a significant threat to medical staff treating COVID-19 patients.
Mexico has the highest mortality rate among doctors and nurses in the world, according to Amnesty International. A total of 1,320 medical workers have died from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.
According to the government’s weekly pandemic report Tuesday, Mexico has shown an apparent reduction of new infections since the start of August. There has been a consistent decline of new cases for 10 consecutive weeks, as reported by Hugo Lopez Gatell, Mexico’s deputy health minister.
The number of hospital bed occupations has also dropped.
Even though Mexico’s long-standing problems have aggravated the pandemic, the recent report shows President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has learned from his administration’s mistakes. Even so, the government must understand that there is still a lot to do to battle the ongoing pandemic.
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