Arequipa, Peru – On the last day of the life of Javier Vilca, his wife stood outside a hospital window to celebrate her birthday with a teddy bear, red balloons and a box of chocolates, and a giant, hand-stretched sign It read: “Don’t give up. You are the best person in the world.”
Minutes later, Vilca, a 43-year-old struggling radio journalist who was battling depression, sprang up four stories for his death – a COVID-19 stay at the Honorio Delgado Hospital in Peru since the pandemic began. The fifth suicide by the patient.
Wilka has become yet another symbol of the despair caused by the coronavirus and a milestone recorded by Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday, in the wake of 4 million deaths exposed by COVID-19 and growing inequalities across the world. became another symbol.
At the hospital where Wilka died on June 24, a lone doctor and three nurses were rushing to treat 80 patients in an overcrowded, makeshift ward, while Wilka was short of breath due to an acute shortage of bottled oxygen. Was gasping
“He promised me he’d build it,” Nohemi Huanachire said while weeping over her husband’s coffin in their half-built home on the outskirts of Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa. “But I never saw him again.”
The number of people killed worldwide in the past year and a half is equal to the population of Los Angeles or the nation of Georgia. This is three times the number of victims killed in traffic accidents worldwide per year. By some estimates, this is roughly the number of people killed in war in all the world’s wars since 1982.
Nevertheless, the toll is widely believed to be low due to overlooked cases or deliberate concealment.
More than six months after vaccines were available, the worldwide COVID-19 death toll has climbed to nearly 7,900 a day, after exceeding 18,000 a day in January. The World Health Organization recorded only 54,000 deaths last week, the lowest weekly total since last October.
While vaccination campaigns in the US and parts of Europe are beginning a period of euphoria after the lockdown, and children there are being vaccinated so they can go back to summer camp and school, infection rates in many parts of the South are still rising Too much too. America and Southeast Asia. And the majority in Africa remain vulnerable due to a lack of vaccines.
In addition, the highly infectious delta variant is spreading rapidly, setting off alarms, spurring the number of cases and rapidly turning the crisis into a race between the vaccine and the mutant version.
The variant has been detected in at least 96 countries. Sanctions have been reimposed in Australia, Israel, Malaysia, Hong Kong and elsewhere to try to suppress it.
Ann Lindstrand, a top WHO vaccination official, warned that the variant, unequal access to vaccines and the easing of precautions in some wealthy countries is “a toxic combination that is very dangerous”.
Instead of treating the crisis as an “I-and-I-and-my-country” problem, she said, “we need to be serious that this is a worldwide problem that requires a worldwide solution.”
While the US missed President Joe Biden’s goal of getting at least one shot in 70% of American adults by the Fourth of July, nationwide deaths have rapidly risen to nearly 200 per day, from a peak of more than 3,400 per day in January. .
And the US economy is roaring back, with growth this year projected to be the fastest in nearly seven decades. Even cruise ships, an early vector for the spread of the virus, are resuming voyages after a hiatus of more than a year.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to lift all remaining restrictions this month, despite persistent fears about the Delta version. Britain this week recorded a total of more than 30,000 new infections in a single day for the first time since January.
Elsewhere in Europe, thousands of football fans in several cities were able to watch in person as their national teams compete in the European Championship a year after the tournament was postponed, although attendance at some stadiums was severely restricted.
This is a story of desperation in some parts of the developing world.
In Latin America, only 1 in 10 people have been fully vaccinated, leading to an increase in cases in countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay. Meanwhile, the virus is entering remote areas of Africa that were previously spared, leading to a sharp rise in cases.
Peru has been the hardest hit by the virus, with the highest death rate as a percentage of the population of any country in the world.
In Arequipa, Vilca’s suicide was featured on the front pages of tabloids in the city of a million. His widow said that his death was a protest against the deteriorating conditions of the COVID-19 patients.
Nationwide, Peru has only 2,678 intensive care beds for a population of 32 million – a small number even by the low standards of Latin America. Nor was Vilca among the lucky 14% of Peruvians to have received a single dose of the vaccine.
Across the country, a new routine has emerged as people spend their days filling up heavy, green oxygen tanks bought on the black market that are lifelines for sick loved ones. Some businesses have tripled oxygen prices, forcing many to plunder their savings or sell goods.
From the hospital where Wilka took her life, “he would call and say they were all left. No one was paying attention,” said his widow, showing a picture on her cellphone that her husband said. In one of the rare moments he had sent himself, he was lucky to have an oxygen mask.
Along with South America, which accounts for nearly 40% of the daily deaths from COVID-19, India has emerged as the other main driver of the mortality rate. Still, experts agree that the nearly 1,000 deaths that India records daily are almost certainly low.
In the state of Madhya Pradesh, with more than 73 million people, a journalist found that the spike in registered deaths from all causes in May alone was five times the level before the pandemic and 67 times the official death toll from the virus for the month. which was 2,451.
Rich countries, including Britain, the US and France, have pledged to donate nearly 1 billion COVID-19 shots to help bridge the inequality gap. But experts say the world needs $11 billion for vaccinations. Of the 3 billion doses administered globally, less than 2% are in developing countries.
“The promise to provide 1 billion doses is a drop in the ocean,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callemard. He slammed politicians for opting for “the same trivial half-hearted measures and insufficient gestures”.
A UN-backed effort to distribute vaccines to poor countries called COVAX has also faltered. Its largest supplier Serum Institute of India stopped exporting vaccines in March to combat the pandemic on the subcontinent.
Meanwhile, countries that rely on Chinese-made vaccines, including Seychelles, Chile and Bahrain, have seen outbreaks even after reaching relatively high levels of coverage, raising questions about the shots’ effectiveness.
Dora Curry, director of Atlanta-based Health Equity at Charity Care, said she is deeply concerned that immunizations for children in Germany, France and the US are slow to reach relief for the more vulnerable in poorer countries.
“If there was a way I could give that dose to someone in Uganda, I would,” said Curry, who admitted that she would probably immunize her 11-year-old daughter when she was eligible. “But that just speaks to the problems we have with the distribution system.”
Goodman reported from Miami, Cheng from London. AP journalists Krutika Pathi and Anirudh Ghoshal contributed from New Delhi.