On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that South America is “a new epicenter” for the coronavirus pandemic, The Hill reported. Cases in South America have been on the rise over the past several weeks, especially in Brazil, where the number of coronavirus cases has skyrocketed. Brazil has the most cases of coronavirus in South America — and the third most cases in the world, behind only the United States and Russia.
“We’ve seen many South American countries with increasing numbers of cases and clearly there’s a concern across many of those countries, but certainly the most affected is Brazil at this point,” executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, Mike Ryan, stated during a press conference on Friday.
“In a sense, South America has become a new epicenter for the disease.”
According to CNBC, the number of coronavirus cases in Brazil is approaching 300,000, and almost 19,000 people in the country have died from COVID-19, the disease that develops after being infected by the novel coronavirus. Most of the country’s cases are centered in the Sao Paulo region, though other areas of the country have been hit hard as well. Rio de Janeiro, Ceara, and Pernambuco have also seen a surge in coronavirus cases.
Brazil's coronavirus death toll surges past 18,000, making it South America’s hardest-hit country pic.twitter.com/oOxGCerAak
— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) May 20, 2020
Though Brazil’s cities are seeing the highest number of cases, Ryan said that the rural areas of the country — particularly Amazonas — are experiencing much higher infections per capita.
“In terms of attack rates, the highest attack rates are actually in Amazonas,” Ryan stated.
“About 490 persons infected per 100,000 population, which is quite a high attack rate.”
The concentration of cases in Amazonas is particularly concerning because it is one of Brazil’s most rural regions, CNBC reported. Health officials from Amazonas said last month that their healthcare systems were already completely overwhelmed with people fighting COVID-19, and that was before the surge of cases in May.
In an attempt to get the pandemic under control in their country, the Brazilian government approved the use of hydroxychloroquine, a drug for the prevention and treatment of malaria, according to CNBC. U.S. President Donald Trump has frequently suggested that hydroxychloroquine could be used to prevent novel coronavirus infection and treat COVID-19. Trump stunned U.S. health officials on Monday when he revealed that he had been taking the drug as a preventative measure against coronavirus.
During the WHO press conference, Ryan reiterated that there is currently no evidence that hydroxychloroquine can prevent novel coronavirus or treat COVID-19, per CNBC.
“The current clinical evidence does not support the widespread use of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of Covid-19, not until the trials are completed and we have clearer results.”
A new study released on Friday found that COVID-19 patients who took hydroxychloroquine were 34 percent more likely to die than patients who didn’t take the drug. Patients who took hydroxychloroquine were also 137 percent more likely to develop a dangerous arrhythmia. Many of the patients who died while taking hydroxychloroquine died because of developing arrhythmia. This was the first major study of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients. Several smaller studies and trials have also linked hydroxychloroquine to increased risk of death in COVID-19 patients.
Though Brazil is the hardest-hit country in South America, other South American countries have also experienced a surge in coronavirus cases, contributing to the country’s designation as an epicenter by WHO. The Hill reported that Peru’s case count is over 108,000, and Chile’s case count is above 61,000.