Not getting caught in the traffic jam of España Avenue on a weekday at 2 p.m. is a daunting task. That is why seeing the street almost deserted nowadays is stunning for most Paraguayans. “I’ve never seen something quite like this before, everybody is paranoid now,” says blogger Nora Vega, who commutes to downtown Asunción every day. What is keeping Paraguayans inside their houses is the fast spread of H1N1 virus, which has already claimed three lives and infected hundreds of citizens.
Last week the National Congress declared a national health emergency for 90 days and granted an extra 99 billion guaranies (about 20 million dollars) to the health ministry to deal with the swine flu epidemic.
The government is now analyzing the possibility of extending the two-week winter break for schools to prevent more children from getting the virus. The city hall closed several public buildings and theaters for ten days. The action was taken despite Health Minister Esperanza Martinez’s statements, who warned that this type of measures were not effective to stop the spread of the virus in countries such as Mexico and the United States.
Although the health ministry has only confirmed three deaths officially, it is suspected that at least 15 other deaths are related to the virus. So far 114 cases of infections are official, but there are about 700 other suspicious cases. One of the reasons why these cases cannot be confirmed is because of the shortage of materials to perform the analysis.
Other major concern is the scarcity of antibiotics, especially in the private sector. Journalist and blogger Mabel Rehnfeldt on her blog El Dedo en la Llaga [es] shares the frustration of having two daughters infected with the virus:
Cuando el sábado a la mañana el diario ABC trajo en tapa el titular “SALUD DICE QUE TODO ESTA CONTROLADO” la rabia y la impotencia me ganaron.
Esperanza y equipo: Den un volantazo. Demuestren que no se van a prestar a mentiras oficiales. Si las cosas están descontroladas (ya sea por falta de recursos o porque es difícil controlar una enfermedad como esta en un país pobre e ignorante), digan que no pueden, que no hay recursos, o gente bien entrenada si es que ya los controles les sobrepasan. Hagan que ayudemos desde el sector privado pero no nos digan que todo está bien cuando los monitoreos no están funcionando.
When I saw on page one of ABC newspaper the headline “HEALTH DEPARTMENT CLAIMS THAT EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL” the anger and helplessness overwhelmed me.
Esperanza (the health minister) and the rest of the team: show us that you won’t be part of the official lies. If things are not under control (because of the lack of resources or because it is difficult to control a disease like this in a poor and ignorant country), say that you can’t handle it, if you feel overpowered by the situation, say that there are no resources or trained professionals. Request help from the private sector, but don’t tell us that everything is ok when the monitoring of the disease is not working.
Senators reacted to the fast spread of the virus by accusing the health ministry of acting inefficiently. Representative José Lopez even suggested that health minister Martinez should face a Congressional hearing. But not everybody agrees with this stand. Blogger and journalist Susana Oviedo, on her blog Sobre el Punto [es], argues that the government representatives are not telling the truth:
Según demostró la ministra, hace tres meses también que están programadas las respuestas para cada fase de esta pandemia en el país, y se había anunciado que julio y agosto serían los meses críticos. …. Pero evidentemente los políticos, en general, y los que ocupan cargos en la administración del Estado, en particular, no prestaron oídos a estos temas. Estaban envueltos en sus pequeñeces, como siempre.
As the outbreak extends, Paraguay’s challenges to face the AH1N1 virus increase: the hospitals are overcrowded and as a result, patients are waiting in lines for hours.