Rio de Janeiro Announces Health Emergency & Corruption Probe Just Months Away From Olympics

Rio de Janeiro is only seven months away from hosting the Olympic Games, and there are many worldwide who are becoming increasingly worried as to whether the city is up to the task. The news just recently broke that the Brazilian Attorney General has initiated an investigation into an alleged bribing scheme between lawmakers and construction companies affiliated with the 2016 Olympic Games, and now Rio de Janeiro has just declared a healthcare state of emergency.

Rio de Janeiro’s governor, Luiz Fernando Pezão and the Secretary of Health Care, Alberto Beltrame, both signed the healthcare state of emergency because the state has run out of money to run and maintain the overall operation of the public health system. Across Rio de Janeiro, hospitals, health clinics and emergency rooms either greatly reduced their services or closed their doors altogether, largely as a result of not having enough money for supplies, equipment and payrolls.

Currently, Rio de Janeiro estimates that its health care costs debt is currently about 1.4 billion reais – or $355 million. This includes what it owes to suppliers and healthcare workers. Just to get the healthcare system up and running again, officials in Rio estimate that they need to procure about 350 million reais as soon as possible to reopen the state’s clinics and hospitals.

Governor Pezão talked about the partnerships that would be created through the healthcare state of emergency to acquire the needed funds.

“We are channeling every effort to keep the units running, we have created a crisis cabinet and decreed emergency in Rio de Janeiro. This partnership with the Federal Government and the City Hall is essential. The state has no money machine. We depend on these transfers, especially given the severity of the financial crisis in the country, which has serious consequences for our state.”

Rio de Janeiro will receive about 297 million reais ($75 million) from the Federal Government and another 100 million reais ($25 million) from a Rio City Government loan, all in an effort to not only get the healthcare system functional, but to maintain it for a period of time.

Governor Pezão had no problem admitting that Rio de Janeiro was in dire need from its federal government.

“We are living through a very difficult situation in the state, perhaps the most difficult of any of the Brazilian states, but we are counting on the federal government, President Dilma Rousseff and everyone else to pull the state out of this situation as quickly as possible.”

The healthcare state of emergency in Rio is just the latest worrisome factor when considering the site of the 2016 Olympic Games. Earlier this month, it was realized that the water in Rio is even more contaminated and polluted than previously thought. Very high viral and bacterial counts were found to be not just limited to the shorelines (where raw sewage runs undiluted into larger bodies of water), but farther offshore where Olympic athletes will compete in rowing, sailing, and canoeing. Brazil’s sewage is largely untreated and flows freely into the Rodrigo Freitas Lagoon, Guanabara Bay and popular areas like the Copacabana Beach. The lagoon and bay are both slated to hold Olympic events in 2016.

Kristina Mena, an American expert in waterborne viruses reported back on the investigations into Rio de Janeiro’s water.

“It’s going to increase the exposure of the people who come into contact with those waters. If we saw those levels here in the United States on beaches, officials would likely close those beaches.”

Corruption scandals are one thing, but a crippled healthcare system and polluted water where Olympic events will take place could both spell disaster for a city that supposed to be hosting the world’s finest athletes in just seven months.

[Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images]