The tricks of Mother Nature
There are two types of twins – identical (monozygotic) and fraternal (dizygotic). One fertilized egg (ovum) splits and develops two babies with exactly the same genetic information to form identical twins. They differ from fraternal twins, where two eggs (ova) are fertilized by two sperm and produce two genetically unique children. They are no more alike than individual siblings born at different times. I have powerful reasons to believe that Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump are fraternal twins.
Although many people may question this assumption, I cannot find any other plausible explanation for why Bolsonaro closely follows Trump’s script. This is manifested on how both leaders have responded to the coronavirus pandemic, showing their insensitivity and ignorance.
As an example, discounting the dangers of the epidemic and anxious for approval, both presidents meet their supporters without wearing masks and brushing aside the basic principle of interpersonal distancing to avoid contagion. They act oblivious to the fact that even asymptomatic persons can be contagious, something impossible to know just by looking at them. And this happens as both in the U.S. and in Brazil the pandemic carves its course unrelentingly.
Medicines that kill
In a clear disregard for what medical experts say, both Bolsonaro and Trump continue to promote the use of hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat COVID-19. While Bolsonaro recommends the use of the drug to his supporters, insisting he keeps a box in hand should his 93-year-old mother need it, Trump prides himself on having taken the drug to prevent the infection.
At the end of May 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) suspended the international trial of hydroxychloroquine, because of concerns that it provokes a “significantly higher risk of death” compared to patients who didn’t receive the drug, according to a study published in the medical journal the Lancet.
This is happening as Brazil continues to be one of the countries most affected by the coronavirus pandemic worldwide. On May 26 Brazil reported 1,039 deaths while the U.S. reported 592. As of this writing, the U.S. reports over 100,000 deaths and more than 1.7 million people infected.
The best and the worst
The coronavirus pandemic, like few other events worldwide, has clearly exposed the best and the worse in people. The best, because it has shown the heroic work of hundreds of thousands of health workers who, risking their own lives (and in many cases without basic protective equipment,) have saved millions of people from dying of a deadly infection. The worse, because leaders like Bolsonaro and Trump, with their cavalier attitude towards the pandemic, have unnecessarily put millions of citizens at risk.
The Trump administration has sealed the border to immigrants and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to deport thousands of migrants held in detention centers. Many among those who have been sent back to their countries are infected with the coronavirus. Guatemala’s health minister, Hugo Monroy, said, “The United States has become the Wuhan of the Americas.” Amnesty International USA has called on the Department of Homeland Security to place a moratorium on deportations.
Both in Brazil and in the United States, the number of infected people continues to increase rapidly. Sᾶo Paulo, the largest city in the Western Hemisphere, has become a hot center of the pandemic, and hospitals are overwhelmed. According to a study conducted at London’s Imperial College, Brazil has now the most cases and deaths in Latin America, and is the country with the highest rate of transmission.
The infection is reaching indigenous communities living in remote areas of the Amazon rainforest and is starting to spread in the favelas, marginal areas in Rio de Janeiro and home to approximately 13 million people. “Yet, perhaps the biggest threat to Brazil’s COVID-19 response is its president, Jair Bolsonaro,” stated an editorial in the Lancet.
“Bolsonaro’s personality is extremely ill-suited to a pandemic. He can’t unite the country, because his whole modus operandi is based on sowing division,” said Gustavo Ribeiro, founder of The Brazilian Report, a politics site in Brazil. Exactly the same words could be applied to Donald Trump, who has incited people to rebel against the lockdown imposed by the authorities of several states in the U.S.
The critical role of health information systems
One important consequence of the pandemic is that it has exposed the deficiencies of health information systems worldwide. This hinders the possibility of having an adequate idea of the breadth and progression of the pandemic, information that is vital to plan effective containment policies. This is a particularly serious problem in developing countries because their already poor health systems cannot cope with a situation that is new and dire. In Brazil, public health experts estimate that the actual figures on the pandemic are 15 times higher than those officially released. It is possible that the same applies to several Latin American countries.
Does magic have a role?
Given these circumstances and the great variability of manifestations of the coronavirus, it is impossible to predict what will happen in the coming months, and for how long we will have to deal with the effects of this pandemic. During an interview with Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro, Eric Trump, who is a mouthpiece for his father, suggested that the Democrats were using the pandemic to undermine his father’s popularity. “And guess what, after November 3, coronavirus will magically, all of a sudden, go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen,” said Eric Trump, the president’s son. Only people of a callous nature can continue denying the horrendous impact of this terrible pandemic.
César Chelala is an international public health consultant and the author of AIDS: A Modern Epidemic, a publication of the Pan American Health Organization.