|Speedy burials of patients who died of common respiratory illnesses are not common in the country. / Photo by Chirag Nagpal via Shutterstock|
Nicaragua has reported 25 cases of Covid-19 and eight deaths, but the country’s doctors warned that the government may be hiding the true figures. This was after victims’ families and opposition accused the regime of ordering express burials, reports the Washington Post.
The daily shared the story of Guillermo Maltez, a 59-year-old taxi driver, who called his son Silvio late night before his respirator was disconnected in a Nicaraguan hospital. Silvio said in a phone interview from his home in a neighboring country Costa Rica that his father “sensed” that he was not going to survive the ordeal.
In just a few hours after Guillermo called Silvio, his other son received a phone call from the hospital, informing him that his father passed away. The family was told the official cause of the death was respiratory problems. The son was told that an immediate interment followed, moving the deceased’s body to a nearby cemetery.
Express burial in Nicaragua
Express burial has become common in Nicaragua, raising suspicions that the authoritarian regime is hiding the extent of the Covid-19 tragedy in the country. The Central American country has stood out in the Latin American territory for having an almost complete lack of restrictions in containing the coronavirus that swept the globe.
President Daniel Ortega’s government has kept schools and offices open despite the threat of the pandemic. Authorities likewise deny that the virus spread widely in a country of 6 million people. Nicaragua remains one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. So far, the authorities insist that there have only been eight deaths and 25 cases but health officials provided a far higher estimate.
Speedy burials of patients who died of common respiratory illnesses are not common in the country. Usually, the dead bodies are carried by white-suited medical personnel with members of pro-government paramilitary groups or police watching nearby. This is why the express burial happening recently is considered as a sign by others that the Covid-19 outbreak is already multiplying in the country.
The Nicaraguan Medical Unit reported that 67 doctors and healthcare workers have been infected with Covid-19 based on the lung X-rays and symptoms these victims showed. They did not base their counting on tests because they are controlled by the government and are scarce.
Recently, nearly 90 patients diagnosed with severe respiratory disease were treated at the Hospital España in Chinandega city, where Guillermo died. Hospital officials spoke to the daily about the situation but requested anonymity for fear of reprisal. These health officials shared that doctors in the said hospital suspect that most of the severe respiratory diseases are Covid-19 cases.
Some nurses, internists, radiologists, and top hospital officials are also believed to be infected with Covid-19 but the government did not recognize any of these infections as coronavirus. When the Washington Post requested for comment, the Nicaraguan government did not respond.
The country’s Pulmonologists’ Association president, Taki Moreno, said that the health system has already reached its maximum limit and hospitals are overwhelmed. When neighboring countries implemented strict curfews and quarantines at the start of the pandemic, Nicaragua reportedly encouraged professional sporting events, beach tourism, and festivals.
|The Central American country has stood out in the Latin American territory for having an almost complete lack of restrictions in containing the coronavirus that swept the globe. / Photo by Andrij Vatsyk via Shutterstock|
Authorities said they have made preparations in the fight against Covid-19 by training tens of thousands of healthcare workers in the country and sending door-to-door teams to promote measures that will prevent contagion. However, in April, the international public health agency Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) voiced its concern over the “inadequate” control and prevention of Covid-19 in Nicaragua.
Some analysts also claim that the Nicaraguan government may be downplaying the pandemic out of fear of more damage to the falling economy.
Ortega has also dismissed the Covid-19 threat while neighboring countries Panama and Honduras already reported thousands of cases. The government likewise declined to announce the number of people it has tested for Covid-19 so far but confirmed that all cases in their country are linked to foreign travel. No local transmission has been reported so far but Silvio doesn’t believe it. He believes his father contracted the disease when he drove his taxi in Chinandega, where about half a million people live and are believed to be the epicenter of the disease.
Undercount of Covid-19 cases
Silvio said hat his family was not even allowed to view his father’s body before the burial and they only allowed his brother to see it through a window. The body was also wrapped in black plastic. Guillermo was not among the eight recognized Covid-19 cases in Nicaragua.
Costa Rica, the neighboring country of Nicaragua, has reported 863 Covid-19 cases despite having the strongest health system in Latin America. The tally was provided by Johns Hopkins University. On the other hand, Honduras recorded 2,565 Covid-19 cases and 138 deaths.
Epidemiologist Álvaro Ramírez, who led Nicaragua‘s response during the cholera epidemic that affected the country from 1991 to 1993, said that there has been an “undercount.” He added that the government is not reporting the real number of those infected or those who died.
In a video released on May 6, Sandinista legislator Carlos Emilio López said that the country was prepared to confront the pandemic and it is a lie that Nicaragua’s hospitals are saturated, overwhelmed, full, or have collapsed. The reality, though, is that desperate families are waiting outside the hospitals to seek information about their relatives.
Total coronavirus cases in Nicaragua
Based on the data released by the government, real-time statistics platform Worldometer details that Nicaragua reported its first Covid-19 case on March 19 and its peak on May 12. Meanwhile, Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, shares that Nicaragua had 0.90 hospital beds per 1,000 people in 2014. This indicates the availability of inpatient services in the country. So far, there is no global norm for the density of hospital beds in relation to the total population. In the same year, Nicaragua had 0.91 medical doctors per 1,000 people. This was an increase in number compared to 2003 when there were only 0.39 medical doctors per thousand people. Medical doctors include specialist medical practitioners and generalist physicians.
The tension caused by the country’s secrecy surrounding the health crisis is now becoming visible to the public. During a crisis, credibility and trust are the most precious assets of the government since people are asked to make sacrifices for the greater good.