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Health workers transfer a coronavirus patient to a bed of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Hospital Sao Paulo in Sao Paulo, Brazil March 17, 2021. Source: Reuters/Amanda Perobelli.
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  • As Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak continues to spiral out of control, a lack of staff in intensive care units is only adding to the problem
  • So far, more than 284,000 Brazilians have died — the highest death toll outside of the United States
  • Sao Paolo, Brazil’s affluent business hub, reported in Thursday its first death of a patient waiting for a bed in an ICU
  • ICU doctors are now exhausted and emotional, which threatens their decision-making abilities and raises the chances of them getting things wrong
  • Brazil has over 540,000 doctors, and its ratio of physicians per capita is close to that of the United States — but only a fraction are qualified for ICU care

As Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak continues to spiral out of control, a lack of staff in intensive care units is only adding to the problem.

After months of long, gruelling work, some medical professionals are burned out, while others are simply unable to manage the endless flow of critical COVID-19 patients pushing the country’s healthcare system to the brink.

“Intensive care doctors are a commodity in short supply,” said César Eduardo Fernandes, President of the Brazilian Medical Association.

“There’s no way to meet this brutal, catastrophic demand.”

The country has become the new epicentre of the pandemic, thanks to an infectious new variant, a lack of containment measures, a chaotic federal response and a patchy vaccine rollout.

So far, more than 284,000 Brazilians have died — the highest death toll outside of the United States, which has recorded over 538,000 deaths. With an escalating rate of infections, Brazil now accounts for one in every six coronavirus cases reported worldwide.

As a result, the country’s health care system is buckling. According to the Fiocruz biomedical institute, intensive care units in 25 of 26 states and the federal district are filled beyond 80 per cent capacity, while 19 state capitals have passed 90 per cent.

Sao Paolo, Brazil’s affluent business hub, reported in Thursday its first death of a patient waiting for a bed in an ICU.

“We are seeing patients arriving at a speed that we can’t handle,” said Flávia Machado, head of intensive care at the Hospital Sao Paulo.

“This causes us health professionals, who are already tired, an additional stress, as we know that we are not serving everyone who needs us.”

She added that her colleagues were all exhausted and emotional, which threatened their decision-making abilities and raised the chances of them getting things wrong.

Brazil has over 540,000 doctors, and its ratio of physicians per capita is close to that of the United States. However, only a fraction are qualified for specialised ICU care.

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