As Covid cases and deaths increased rapidly, the Brazilian hospital system is under serious stress.

With a population of 215 million people, more than 11.6 million cases and near 285,000 deaths reported due to the Covid-19 pandemic (of which 2,648 deaths and 90,303 infections were reported on 17th March alone), Brazil is entering into a critical situation in fighting the virus and its second wave – and the new virus variants like that which originated in Manaus.

Read more: Manuas – Brazilian city in oxygen crisis

Read more: IBG – We still need oxygen, we still need change

As per World Health Organization (WHO) reports, Brazil is second only to the US in terms of the number of cumulative cases and deaths.

With restrictions in place to stop the spread of the virus in spite of government hesitations, and a vaccination campaign slowly progressing, limited by vaccine´s availability, the immediate future brings serious concerns.

Last week, a new Minister of Health was appointed by President Jair Bolsonaro, the fourth in the last 12 months. The new minister, Marcelo Queiroga, a cardiologist, replaces General Pazuello, a military in activity brought after the departure of the two previous Health ministers which left office.

Several states report 100% occupancy rates of intensive care units (UCIs), and in some cases local authorities complain about critical stock levels of medical oxygen, medicines and supplies required to face the increasing number of patients.

Read more: Further oxygen support sent to Amazon regions

Last week, after industrial gases companies and the Brazilian Chemical Chamber (Abiquim) alerted the Ministry of Health and other high rank members of the Federal Government about their concerns with the situation of oxygen supplies, especially in Central West states like Acre and Rondonia, local municipal authorities are also sending alerts in other states like Santa Catarina, in southern Brazil, where the virus spread accelerated.

In a recent meeting with the Senate Chamber Covid Crisis Committee, the Director of Logistics of the Ministry of Health acknowledged the critical situation and alerted about possible shortages in small and distant hospitals. Industrial gas company representatives also participated in the meeting and described the problem of adjusting production and distribution to a rapidly increasing demand and emphasized the need for better planning and coordination.

On 12th March, Anvisa, the Brazilian regulating agency for medical products, had issued a resolution requiring oxygen producers to report their production and distribution capacity on a weekly basis, in order to be able to anticipate any possible shortages, like the ones produced in the city of Manaus (Amazonia state) in mid-January 2021.

Rob Cockerill - BW v1

A deepening challenge

Insight by Rob Cockerill, Global Managing Editor

As indicated above, the Covid crisis continues to both develop and deepen in Brazil.

If ever it was levelled as being a problem largely restricted to poorer or more remote, stranded regions, this is no longer the case. As I understand it, the conundrums with oxygen supply now extend to hospitals in Southern Brazil –  the country’s richest region, also served by an extensive network of oxygen plants.

Official information from Health authorities confirms that two hospitals, one located in East Sao Paulo (served by Linde´s White Martins) and the second in the city of Camp Bom in the state of Rio Grande do Sul (served by Air Liquide Brasil), entered into emergency status due to the very high demand for oxygen and in both cases their liquid storage tanks emptied and the cylinder back-up systems entered into service.

In the Camp Born case, six deaths were reported due to lack of oxygen in the Covid ICU´s, we understand.

Official, local press releases from White Martins and Air Liquide, respectively, describe the very high oxygen consumption levels.

Of particular concern right now is not just this grave situation today, but the fear of what may be to come tomorrow; winter season is approaching for the ’Southern cone’ of South America, with a significant increase in the number of cases expected in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia as a result.