BRAZIL: Dying to breathe

• Brazilian Church tackling shortage of oxygen for COVID patients

Amazonas State’s capital Manaus (© Aid to the Church in Need)
Amazonas State’s capital Manaus (© Aid to the Church in Need)

A bishop in northern Brazil has spoken about the Church’s struggle tackling a fatal oxygen shortage – which has led to more than 50 additional deaths among Amazonas State’s coronavirus patients over the last week.

With Brazil’s COVID-19 deaths exceeding 225,000, the Church has provided logistical and other support in the state, where rivers are the main means of transportation between towns, as there have been problems getting essential supplies such as oxygen to hospitals.

Archbishop Leonardo Steiner of Manaus told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “The biggest difficulty is the sheer distances and the problem of access to the hospitals that are equipped for helping the most severely ill.

“Today we were able to send oxygen to a number of towns – this was an enormous help.

“Now we are trying to locate mini production plants for the supply of oxygen, which would resolve a number of problems.”

In Amazonas State’s capital Manaus, difficulties obtaining oxygen have reportedly led to people exhausting life savings or taking out loans to ensure relatives in hospital can receive the precious gas.

ACN was told that in some cases families have paid more than £750 to provide loved ones with an extra three hours of oxygen – which is more than four months’ income for the average household in the region.

Last month (January) 2,195 people died of Covid-19 in Manaus – an increase of more than 700 percent compared to December 2020.

Brazil’s Church has also responded to the dire poverty caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Archbishop Steiner said: “The number of the poor has grown, and the difficulty of finding food for our brothers and sisters living on our city streets has likewise grown still greater.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, parishes and religious communities have been providing poor families with food, clothes and other essentials.

ACN has been supporting these communities, who are themselves facing difficulties because of COVID-19, so that they can continue their outreach to the poor.

Archbishop Steiner expressed his thanks for the help given by the charity’s benefactors and others.

He said: “It is so good for the Brazilian Church to see the world supporting us with their words and donations.

“The pandemic itself leads us to meditate on the value of life, the transitory nature of things, the essence of our existence, the beauty and joy of the Gospel.

“It is in such moments of suffering and sadness that we feel ourselves most strongly to be a family and close to one another. God is so much present among us – it is palpable.”