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Nicaragua, coronavirus and international solidarity

News from Nicaragua | Friday, 3 April 2020 |

Maintaining the flow of locally produced food will be criticial through this crisis

Maintaining the flow of locally produced food will be criticial through this crisis

As of 1 April Nicaragua had five confirmed imported cases, one of whom has died, and one of whom is reported recovered; there have been no cases of local transmission. The Ministry of Health (MINSA) tested all the contacts of those infected but none tested positive.

Across the Central America region there have been 2,006 reported cases and 52 deaths the highest numbers being in Panama, with significant numbers in Costa Rica and Honduras.

In stark contrast to most countries in the world, since the Sandinista government returned to power it has implemented a well-integrated, holistic development plan that includes achieving economic stability at the same time as investing heavily in public services and social programmes focused on poverty reduction.

Health care as a human right not a privatised luxury

One of these fundamental commitments was to building a free public health care service based on a community model. The national network of hospitals (18 new ones have been built since 2007), health centres and health posts is supported by a network of 250,000 community volunteer health promoters called brigadistas.

National Action Plan to ensure the lives, health and well being of Nicaraguans and visitors

The Ministry of Health (MINSA) started working in January with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) making preparations to prevent, contain and treat coronavirus cases.

‘ …In both mainland China and Taiwan, community organising where everyone is watching, identifying cases and supporting them to go to the Health Units and get treated promptly, is what determines the success in reducing the number of cases that may occur.’ Dr Pedro Lopez, SILAIS

These preparations include the following:

  • Over the past ten days an extensive programme of home visits of 1.2 million households by health personnel and community brigadistas to raise awareness of the symptoms and impact of the pandemic and monitoring early symptoms. This included basic hygiene measures such as hand washing and what measures to take should family members or neighbours indicate symptoms. Urban areas are divided into sectors each with a population of 3,000. Each sector has a medical team that is doing daily monitoring with particular attention to pregnant women and those with an underlying medical condition.
  • Preparing and training medical staff, ensuring that 19 hospitals and laboratories around the country have the necessary equipment to treat patients.
  • Screening arrivals at land borders and airports by checking their temperatures
  • Intensive prevention and education campaigns through radio, television, social networks, posters and printed materials have called on people to cleaning constantly-used surfaces, keep a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres when talking with other people; and, most importantly, reporting to the nearest health unit at signs of possible symptoms.
  • A national help line has been set up for those needing advice and emergency support.

Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) praises Nicaragua’s health model and preparedness

In the second week of March a PAHO delegation visited hospitals in Managua, Chinandega, Leon, Grenada and Masaya where facilities are being prepared to treat patients.

PAHO representative Alexander Florencio confirmed that the Nicaraguan government is taking action to ensure that "the best conditions are being prepared" to prevent and contain a coronavirus outbreak. He went on to state that "It is fundamental to recognise that the country has a health system based on a family and community model able to identify a suspected case and an outbreak, which will be quickly referred through the health system. ".

Cuban international solidarity exemplary

In an extraordinary demonstration of its decades long commitment to internationalism Cuba has sent 593 health workers to 14 countries since the pandemic began. On 18 March, a brigade arrived in Nicaragua of epidemiologists, virologists, intensive care specialists and other expert medical professionals to strengthen the country’s response to the pandemic. Cuba is also supplying an anti-viral drug called Interferon Alpha-2b which can be used in the treatment of coronavirus.

Central America united against the coronavirus

Nicaragua’s plans are part of the government’s commitment to a joint Central American region (SICA) strategy entitled ‘Central America united against the coronavirus.’ This has been agreed by all member states and ministries in co-ordination with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A SICA integrated contingency plan, approved on 26 March, covers three major areas: health and risk management; trade and finance; and security, justice and migration.

In practice this means freedom of transit of goods across prioritising medicine and medical supplies, food and other basic necessities; a regional impact study to support requests for financing programmes; and border security and repatriation of those stranded in other countries.

The Central America Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) has announced a US$1.91 billion package of health and economic related support.

What next?

An escalation of the pandemic would require higher levels of containment, which would mean banning public events, closing schools, enforcing physical distancing, limiting travel, and maximizing working from home.

In a worst case scenario more extreme measures would have to be taken. The government has prepared the public health system together with the National System of Disaster Prevention (SINAPRED) civil defence system along with the armed forces for such an eventuality.

Protecting the health as well as social and economic wellbeing of the majority

Seventy per cent of Nicaraguan workers are employed in the social economy: medium, small and micro businesses of all kinds, small farming households and co-operatives. The remainder work in the public and private sectors including over 100,000 employed in Free Trade Zones.

This means that a majority of the economically active population depend on daily or weekly income to be able to buy food and other basic necessities. For the most marginalised, life is a day to day struggle for the basic necessities.

Nicaragua produces 80% of its supplies of basic food: as during the attempted coup in 2018 guaranteeing these supplies will be critical during this crisis. Small and medium farmers will play a vital role in ensuring the production of these supplies.

The Nicaraguan government faces the extraordinarily difficult task of creating an effective strategy to prevent the spread of such a virulent and lethal virus, while recognising and attempting to mitigate the potentially catastrophic consequences for those who are most vulnerable if drastic measures become necessary.

Crisis exacerbated by fundamental, globalised injustices and inequalities

The impact of the coronavirus crisis has been greatly exacerbated by fundamental, globalised injustices and inequalities. This pandemic has laid bare the calamitous consequences of such inequalities in public health systems across the world, and a failure of many states - including wealthy ones - to provide a focussed and effective state-organised response to the crisis.

Maintaining the momentum of international solidarity

Never has the oft repeated phrase ‘international solidarity is critical’ been so true.

We have been in contact with the Rural Workers Association (ATC) one of our partner organisations to discuss the implications of the crisis and how to focus our future solidarity work.

We received the following message from ATC international relations representative Fausto Torres:

‘I want to send you our solidarity in this difficult moment of very grave planetary crisis …I send greetings on behalf of the Association of Trabajadores del Campo (ATC), member of Latin American Co-ordination of Rural Organisations and the international movement La Via Campesina.’ Fausto Torres, ATC, 23 March, 2020