The magnitude of the pandemic in Mexico, which already has more than 59,000 deaths from covid-19 and 543,000 cases, is underestimated, as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned this Friday. The director of the organization’s Health Emergencies Department, Mike Ryan, has pointed out as the main cause the low number of tests being carried out by the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“In Mexico, tests are limited to three per 100,000 people per day, which can be compared to more than 150 per 100,000 people in the United States,” Ryan said. With this comparison, the WHO puts under the spotlight one of the main weaknesses of Mexico to combat the pandemic: the ridiculous figures of evidence that it has with respect to other countries, which at the end of July, were barely 822,000 so far pandemic and 10% of them were still waiting for the results.
The Mexican government has refused to carry out large-scale tests time and again, instead testing only the sickest patients. The Undersecretary of Health, Hugo López-Gatell, came to describe expanding the number of tests to the entire population at the end of May as “a waste of time, effort, and resources.” The person in charge of combating this health crisis justified this refusal with that “Mexico does not intend to count each of the cases, but to resort to modern and proven efficient mechanisms to tackle the pandemic.”
The WHO specialist, who is the right hand of the organization’s director general in the global fight against the coronavirus, has asserted that Mexico should make efforts to increase access to tests, since at the scale on which they are currently carried out no realistic assessment of the situation can be made.
In addition, the Irish doctor, who permanently receives updated information from all countries, has ensured that the percentage of tests that test positive reaches 50% on certain days in Mexico. This rate has become a key indicator to assess the reopening of countries, considering 5% as the threshold to reopen safely, according to the health organization. If few tests are done and focused on symptomatic cases, it is logical that the positives are very high. Asymptomatic cases, which have been revealed as one of the most worrisome sources of contagion, are not detected if tests are not done more systematically.
Ryan has also revealed that the data he manages shows a clear difference in mortality between residents of affluent neighborhoods and the poor. In the latter, people are up to five times more likely to die from covid-19 and the situation of indigenous people is similar. In certain poor communities many people die at home without going to a hospital. It is influenced by ignorance about the seriousness of the matter, sometimes due to superstitions or misgivings about going to health centers.
But it is also true that initially in Mexico there was a lot of insistence that people with mild symptoms stay isolated at home, so many arrived late to hospitals. In this way, it was achieved that there have always been free beds on average throughout the country and the image of hospital saturation has not been given at any time. But the number of deaths is unstoppable, despite the fact that the crisis shows some signs of subsiding. The daily message is now very different: go to the hospitals as soon as they show symptoms compatible with the disease, repeat those responsible for Government Health.
Mexico is already the third country, in absolute terms, with the most official deaths from covid-19, only behind Brazil and the United States, and the seventh in number of cases, according to the John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. In terms of population, Mexico is the tenth country with the most deaths per 100,000 inhabitants: 46.84. Although in July the country’s authorities had to acknowledge that deaths in Mexico City during the pandemic were three times higher than the levels normally observed. Something that Gatell admitted was extrapolated to the entire country.
In addition, the main criterion that the López Obrador Executive uses to measure the impact of the pandemic, the hospital occupancy rate, has been revealed as one of the least reliable data. Because it is not known whether there are fewer beds occupied because the number of seriously ill patients is decreasing or because the number of available places is increasing. Furthermore, the social conditions of half the population in Mexico, many of whose citizens refuse to go to the hospital, make the government’s task very difficult.