Discover more from Pirate Wire Services
Latin America’s poorest country has vaccinated less than 1% of its population
In some countries, desperate citizens are making informal border runs, camping outside hospitals, and fighting over spots in the queue for a jab
As the Global North and some Latin American countries start giving COVID booster shots, some of the region’s poorest countries have barely got their campaigns off the ground. Less than 1% of Haitians and 15% of Nicaraguans are even partially vaccinated, according to figures compiled by Our World in Data.
The figures are an indictment of how the Global North’s save-yourself mentality, impoverished healthcare systems, and complex sociopolitical problems will see the pandemic rumbling on at least into 2022, even as Europe and North America hope it will soon be consigned to history.
5.5% fully vaccinated
14.3% at least partially vaccinated
1 doctor per 1,000 (Costa Rica, 2.9; Mexico, 2.4. Statistics from World Bank)
In Nicaragua, people have faced overnight waits for jabs. One 44-year-old Managua resident said that he left home at 3am to secure a spot. “By the time I arrived, there was a line about half a kilometre long,” he told Pirate Wire Services. He asked us to withhold his name for fear of government reprisals.
“Some people had even brought stools because the word had spread that the lines were obscenely long. People’s relatives had told them to bring furniture!”
He made it into the hospital grounds at around 6:30am, where he waited for several hours in a queue with no access to toilets. Finally, he received a shot of Astra Zeneca around midday in a hospital auditorium festooned with ruling party propaganda.
The country has recently started to apply the Cuban vaccines, Soberana and Abdala, but some Nicaraguans are leery of the Cuban inoculations, which have yet to be approved by the WHO.
The situation has prompted a flood of Nicaraguans to travel to neighbouring Honduras for their shots, slipping over the border at irregular crossing points to skirt the formal requirements for a negative test, according to local media.
Even before the pandemic, it was a challenge finding enough doctors to staff rural healthcare facilities, according to a 45-year-old doctor in Carazo department who also wished to withhold her name. Now, a shortage of doses in rural areas means people from surrounding communities often travel the day before to wait for the medical brigades.
“There are fights,” she said. “People come to blows over spots [in the queue] because there are so few vaccines and everyone wants to get vaccinated.”
There is widespread mistrust in the government’s case and death counts, prompting the collective Observatorio Ciudadano COVID19 Nicaragua to start gathering reports independently. Although it probably still doesn’t capture the whole picture, it goes some way to providing clarity on the situation.
“I know five people who’ve died of covid, but the government says that this week, nationally, just one person died,” said the doctor. “It’s not even a shadow [of the real number].”
0.3% fully vaccinated
0.7% at least partially vaccinated
0.2 doctors per 1,000 (Dominican Republic: 1.6, Jamaica: 1.3)
Haiti is the third least-vaccinated country in the world, after Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The numbers speak to a nightmare scenario of overlapping emergencies.
On July 7, mercenaries stormed into the home of president Jovenel Moïse and gunned him down. Just five weeks later, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook the island nation, killing at least 2,200 people and wounding at least 12,200 more, with the country’s descent into gang war hindering relief efforts.
Already the poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, the crises compound a worsening security situation. The US donated 500,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to Haiti via the COVAX mechanism in July, but in mid-October the government said that it would return most of them because it wouldn’t be able to administer them before they expired.
Currently, crippling fuel shortages are threatening to bring major hospitals to their knees. Transport, both between cities and within the capital of Port-au-Prince, is impossible for many.
The arrival of the Delta variant in the country has been a “game changer”, according to a former US government official with knowledge of the issue.
“The lack of a health infrastructure would make it more difficult to vaccinate a large proportion of the population,” he said. “The mobility concerns and the disasters would also make it more complicated.”
In the absence of comprehensive official statistics, the fact that numerous public figures contracted the disease is an indicator of the scale of the problem, he said, although he added that the country’s young population and tendency to socialize outdoors had helped dampen the virus’s effects.
Elsewhere, only 20% of Jamaicans have had at least one shot and the figure for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is around 22%. But other countries in the region have shown that once the pieces are in place, inoculation can proceed very quickly, as Ecuador’s campaign shows.
57% fully vaccinated
67% at least partially vaccinated
2 doctors per 1,000 (Colombia: 2.2, Peru: 1.3)
The pandemic hit Ecuador early and hard. In the city of Guayaquil, hospitals were quickly overwhelmed, and many died in their homes. Families were unsure if the bodies could spread the disease and the government was unprepared to collect them, which led to hundreds if not thousands of bodies being left on the streets. Ecuador lays claim to the highest excess death spike in Latin America during the pandemic.
The vaccine rollout was hardly any better. Between February and April 2021, the country had four different Health Ministers when three resigned after scandals involving selling doses to the highest bidder or giving them away as favors to associates. There were few doses available at the time but the scandals rocked public confidence. Around 3% of Ecuadorians had received their first dose by the April presidential elections. Most of the country was under severe lockdown amid a new surge of cases. Things looked grim.
The president-elect, Guillermo Lasso, made a bold campaign promise: to vaccinate 9 million people in his first 100 days. This would be more than half the country.
“We managed to unite everyone around a single goal: to save lives,” said current Health Minister Ximena Garzón. The military went to remote areas, private companies and universities helped with logistics, and at its peak, the small Andean country of 18 million people was able to vaccinate over 400,000 people in a single day. Garzón claims it as “the largest social mobilization in Ecuador’s history.”
Lasso’s seemingly far-fetched campaign promise was accomplished. July began with just 19% of the nation with at least one dose and ended with 56%.
Today, Ecuador enjoys a very low rate of transmission and life has mostly returned to normal. After the GDP lost a devastating 7.8% last year, the economy is rebounding strongly as well.
Despite the challenging structural conditions in the country, Nicaragua has a long history of successful inoculation campaigns for diseases such as polio, posing the question of whether the roll-out can speed up as it did in Ecuador. But the scale of the crisis in Haiti means it is unlikely to be able to replicate that kind of success without substantial support.
“The process itself is so inefficient, chaotic and stressful that people are feeling demoralized,” said the Managua resident. For now, many of Latin America’s poorest appear to be feeling the same way.
Stories we’re watching:
In southern Argentina, a siege is intensifying between the Mapuche community of Lof Quemquemtrew and the local police. The Indigenous group have occupied a plot of their ancestral lands in an attempt to recover rights to it, but the police have reportedly blocked them in without access to food.
In Bolivia, a pregnant 11-year-old rape survivor's family have decided that the girl will carry the pregnancy to term after representatives of the Catholic church visited her in hospital and made a public statement against abortion. The case has sparked disgust and a fierce debate on abortion, patriarchy, and the separation of church and state.
In Catatumbo Colombia, the army claimed that 180 soldiers had been kidnapped by coca farmers, but the story quickly came apart. The heavily armed military force was engaged in forced eradication of coca amidst community protests when ASCAMSAT, the coca farmers union, blocked one of the few roads in the region. The farmers deny that the soldiers were ever “kidnapped”, and claimed that such violent rhetoric incites Colombian society against an already stigmatized region.
Our favourite Spanish words of the week:
Floripones - Angel’s trumpet flowers. Alternatively, a nasty, tacky floral pattern or adornment.
Mortecina - Dim or palid (with regard to light). Sounds like the Addams Family’s fun Latina aunt