COVID-19: What’s There to Worry About? The Latin American Healthcare System


Photograph courtesy of CDC.ORG


Many might be confused by the title of this article. After all, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and the answer seems obvious – everything. But the purpose of this article is to elaborate on three things that you might not have been aware of and should be worried about. These are, in order of precedence, the potential collapse of the Latin American healthcare system and the ensuing refugee crisis; the attempts by China to usurp the position of the United States on the international stage; and the attempts by far-right extremists in Europe to use COVID-19 to strengthen their position politically and destabilize the European Union. This will be the first of three articles, each tackling one of these issues. 

The Latin American healthcare system is of the most immediate concern because it has the shortest time horizon. Mexico is a case study for the problems facing this region: the response to the crisis has been slow and the government itself has been a source of misinformation. Mexican President Andres Obrador was encouraging his citizens to attend celebrations and go out to restaurants well into March and encouraged the use of pictures of saints as protection from the virus. In addition to this, Mexico has only 2,000 ventilators and only 1.4 hospital beds per thousand people, according to a report by the New York Times. Further south, things fair little better. On March 20, Brazil’s health minister told National Public Radio: “Clearly, by the end of April, our healthcare system will collapse,” citing similar issues of shortages. For reference, at the time of this statement Brazil had 904 confirmed cases of COVID-19. It currently has 8044 and Mexico has 1378. 

In 2009, Andrew Krepinevich, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, published Seven Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century in which he mapped out seven potential future scenarios. One was that of a global pandemic markedly similar to the one we currently face, with a significant difference being that his scenario centers around an avian flu epidemic. He predicted that following the collapse of the Latin American healthcare system would be a massive influx of refugees fleeing northward to the United States, acting on the belief that the odds of surviving the pandemic were significantly better in the United States. Were such an issue to arise, it would present significant moral and material hazards to the United States. As such, the United States should be taking measures to prop up the healthcare systems of vulnerable Latin American countries via proactive aid programs. This also ties into the issue of China attempting to usurp the position of the United States on the world stage, which will be discussed next week.