(This is the second in a continuing series of periodic reports Latina Lista is receiving from correspondents in Mexico City.)
By Mara Muñoz
MEXICO CITY — Last Monday, April 27, was an unusual day in Mexico City. It was 11:30 am when the Ministry of Health had a press conference. The country was expecting the Mexican government’s announcements on how to control swine flu.
Insurgentes Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Mexico City at 6:30 pm, on peak hours.
(Photo: Mara Muñoz)
It was a sunny day in the crowded metropolis. It was a working day that would usually be a perfect day for traffic jams and street protests. However, few cars would have disturbed you and even less pedestrians would have been close to each other.
Dozens of journalists were waiting for Mexican officials when they came out to face the audience while national television and radio were broadcasting the press conference live. Together with the Ministry of Education and the Health Ministry from Mexico City, JosÃ© Angel Cordoba Villalobos, responsible for the public national health system, announced that all schools around Mexico would be closed, at least, until the 6th of May.
Public servants from Mexico City’s government evacuating a building. One of th co-worker’s mother had the swine flue and the building was been clean.
(Photo: Mara MuÃ±oz)
When the official announcement finished, journalists started to ask their questions: Had the response of the Mexican government been quick enough or had it had taken too long to declare the emergency? Did the swine flu start in Veracruz on April 2nd or in Asia? And will the international community close their borders with Mexico?
Yet suddenly something happened in the middle of the public questioning at the press conference. Something that rattled all the impatient journalists wanting to know the answers to their questions and whose whispering murmurs became loud voices. It was 11:46 a.m. and an earthquake was shaking the ground of Mexico City — at a time when the swine influenza was shaking the nerves of Mexicans around the country.
Buildings, houses and shops were evacuated, as people remembered the lesson this country got from the 1985 earthquake that destroyed hundreds of houses and buildings and which had an official death toll of 12,000 people. Back then, people went to the streets to help others, to come out from the rubble, try to find life in death and hope in destruction.
On Monday, April 27, 2009, people went out because we all knew the consequences of a catastrophe of this kind. But, this time, almost everybody was wearing masks because another threat was in the air.
Swine flu has killed 149 people around Mexico. El Universal newspaper reported today that there are 1995 cases, and 9 out of 32 states in Mexico have reported deaths. According to the Pan-American Health Organization 24 of the Mexican states have reported suspicious cases.
Several measures have been taken: schools will be closed all over the country until next 6th of May, people are wearing masks on the streets, restaurants only sell takeout food, football matches have been suspended, churches are closed, freestyle wrestling, concerts and all sort of public shows have been suspended until the epidemic is controlled. Nobody knows when it will be under control, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Mexico to be at level 4, out of 6, of emergency, saying it might increase.
Nobody knows how many lives will be lost and there are many who doubt Mexico’s capacity to face the crisis. Workers at the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases are already protesting to get adequate equipment to protect themselves from the virus.
“This is an institute of high specialization, we are attending influenza cases, and the authorities have the equipment to provide us with more security in facing this crisis. They are not giving us what we need to protect ourselves,” says a worker of this institute to the newspaper El Universal.
Workers at a restaurant, waiting to finish the working day. All restaurants in Mexico City are closed, only takeout food is allowed.
(Photo: Mara MuÃ±oz)
Workers at this public health institute are asking for high efficiency masks, goggles, lab coats, and gloves — simply what the WHO establishes as requirements to better protect health workers dealing with these types of viral infections.
Whether porcine virus has become a pandemic or is still an epidemic, at the moment it is secondary to the fact that every institution and government implicated has accepted this virus as highly contagious. It has already been spread around countries such as New Zealand, Spain, and Japan. The USA is the second country to report more cases.
At the moment, it has been confirmed that there are more than 64 cases of people infected. Nobody has died outside Mexico and this country has the largest number of cases.
Mexico is a developing country in which according to the OECD social security system only covers less than half of the population. The level of public health spending is only 2.8 points of the GDP — half of total health spending in Mexico — and approximately half of health-care spending is paid by individuals from their own resources.
Mexico City is practically paralyzed. And even if millions of people are still going to work, it is hard to see a metropolis of 20 million inhabitants in the middle of this calm. Reforma newspaper reported on its website that companies such as Monsanto, Sanofi Aventis, Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, Phillip Morris, Coca Cola Company, AXA, Procter & Gamble, Alstom and Volvo are allowing their workers to work from home. But these calm and family-friendly work measures are not good news because they are products of fear. Masks and tuna are now hard to find in pharmacies and supermarkets.
Given the level of development of Mexico’s public health system, and the human transit of this disease, the international community needs to think about the level of help and attention it can supply to Mexico to help face this crisis which is not local but now global.