The year 2020, in Guatemala began like any other; it was heard in mid-February that in China and Europe, people were dying of a disease called covid19. But in this Central American country, everyone continued with their work, student, and agricultural routines.
Most of them watched the news about what was happening on the other side of the world: people with masks or white suits disinfecting entire cities, it seemed extreme, and they never imagined that this would happen in Central America, like many other things that never reach developing countries like Guatemala. .
No one knew that on a global level it was the beginning of a radical change in their lives that would be marked by deep wounds of great pain, despair, anxiety, sadness, trauma and desolation; but, that there would also be love and a lot of resistance.
Guatemalans on March 13 at a press conference heard their president, Alejandro Giammattei, confirm a case of coronavirus. A week later 20 cases and one deceased were registered.
A precarious system
According to the USAC report against Coronavirus and the General Directorate of Research of the University of San Carlos de Guatemala, «in the last 40 years there has been no investment in the health system; we find a collapsed health system, with 0.6 beds per 1000 inhabitants. (…) that is, not even a bed (Government of Guatemala, 2020) 42, made the decision to enable and build temporary hospitals to meet the needs of the pandemic. Among these is the temporary hospital of the Parque de la Industria (budget Q107.3 million)”.
Hospital that gave care to infected patients and functioned as a Quarantine Center, according to a note published on June 11, 2020, by the official newspaper.
After three months of the hospital being enabled, the balance of recovered from covid was 900 patients, in August 2021 the temporary health center gave a press conference indicating that from March 2020 to August 2021, the cases treated in total amounted to 18,203, 1,358 deceased. 7,097 hospitalized cases. 5,234 recovered.
In most of the temporary hospitals, 100 percent of the budget allocated to date has not been executed, according to the Prensa Libre note.
The National Health Laboratory had few staff prior to the pandemic and they had little time to prepare for what was to come, they had no idea of the chaos they would experience, says Selene González, coordinator of the Central Reference Unit for Epidemiological Surveillance of the National Health Laboratory.
«It was too much stress, we wanted to respond with the population and with the internal or external pressure to be able to comply, we took advantage of the night to talk and get rid of all the stress,» he says.
For her part, the analyst in the virology area, Gabriela García, points out: “I did not feel the change of confinement because for us it was all work, we had to attend to other diseases and also covid-19, we were locked up in the laboratory day by day.”
2020 and 2021 were extremely difficult for the staff of the only National Health Laboratory. The team had the capacity to carry out 250 tests per day with a 6-day response, but during 2020, they began to give results in less than 24 hours and delivered 1,800 samples per day.
They started with six women working before the pandemic; currently they have 35 people, and now they have a new, more specialized team to carry out their work.
The memory of the difficult days
While temporary hospitals were being opened in Guatemala City, in the interior of the country, the inauguration of these spaces came three months later.
In the communities there was something different and, in some cases, terrifying, the local authorities and residents began to take their own measures to contain the pandemic, the curfew and other extreme measures of militarization at the national level were not lacking, many say that they remember what they lived with to much terror and feel that it was just yesterday.
The stories about how Guatemalans have suffered the pandemic and the trauma of seeing their family or friends die every day are there.
No one was spared from having this terrible disease; for some it was never an option to go to the hospital. People from different places, urban or remote indigenous communities decided that it was preferable to treat the virus at home.
The faces of the pandemic
Rómulo Soto, originally from Mixo, a town an hour from the capital of Guatemala, recounts: “one Sunday night at half past eleven something quite curious happened; one of the neighbors had died and it was quite hard to hear the screams of the family, as they cried for the man who had died, who was the father of one of these people and they did not have medical assistance and it is not known how serious the man was ”.
Some feel relieved to tell their experiences, after suffering censorship and discrimination for making the difficult decision at the beginning or throughout the pandemic to care for their covid-19 patients at home.
In the west of the country, 3 hours away from the capital, in the village of El Tablón, Sololá, Guatemala, Antonio Cosiguá, 46 years old and a worker at the only local hospital, highlights: “It was quite difficult to get the information that they gave us. I was in the hospital when the first positive case came out and we were working closely with the person.”
He explains that more than five tests have been done and all are negative. At some point he had mild symptoms, but managed to overcome it; however, his mother-in-law, son and wife were not so lucky. One of them lost his life.
His wife Pabla Julajuj, recounts how she saw her mother, Julia Tuy, 64, suffer at home for two weeks: «My mother died of covid, I was in the ambulance with her, it was very traumatic, she died in front of me.»
And she also adds: “I told my husband, let’s watch over my mother at home, but he told me it’s not possible. I went crazy, I cried. We only went to deliver my mother’s body to the hospital and from there to the cemetery. I did not expect that disease; it attacked us strongly.
The other evils
She explains that her mother had a bad cough, couldn’t breathe, and also had diabetes.The confinement generated a great depression in him due to the drastic measures in his change of life, something that, according to his daughter, was the trigger for his death on January 26, 2021.
Pabla became seriously ill days later after having contact with her mother. Her husband decided that she should spend the disease at home because the hospitals were overwhelmed: there were no beds or medicines.
Senior members of the national government determined that one of the biggest problems of the lack of medicine was due to mismanagement in the distribution of the medicine.
For this reason, Antonio took care of Pabla at home: he hydrated her, nebulized her and applied all the medications indicated by the Ministry of Health.
For the cosigua it was also essential to use home remedies such as purple onion, garlic, cinnamon, honey, eucalyptus, ginger, lemon and cloves, as well as the use of the temazcal, which is a traditional bath of indigenous communities, where they heat water in a pot. On boiling stones in a room made of adobe, similar to a sauna.
The third positive in the family was their eldest son José Cosigua Tuy, 23, who works as a juice delivery man for a private company.
He was close to the border with Mexico. Upon arriving at his parents’ house, he had a high fever, so they decided to take him to the Hospital Center, where they were told that they had no tests or space to care for him.
The main option was to take him home, where they set up a room for him. «I had my first experience with my mother and when she gave birth to my son, she encouraged me to get closer to him and support him in everything,» says Pabla.
A race against death
José remained immobile, with strong coughing fits and unable to breathe, they sought help from a doctor, who advised them to take care of him at home.
He was on oxygen for 20 days, every three days they were going to perform laboratory tests that revealed that his blood was coagulating and that it was possible that he would die.
Antonio, his father, became very frustrated, but the doctor gave him hope. He told him about the expensive medicine called Actemra for 6,600 quetzales per vial (approximately $900.00 dollars) that was sold in Mexico.
«We were determined to save José’s life, the medicine came from the border, when they told me that the medicine was delayed, I couldn’t accept it because my son was dying,» says Antonio.
This news sentenced the death of José, his father could not get home without medicine, he was crying next to a church on his motorcycle, but he was not willing to give up.
He called the doctor and begged him to find some way to quickly access the medicine; this would cost him 800.00 quetzales ($110.00 dollars) more because a car would arrive in 2 hours only and exclusively to drop off the medicine.
Due to the demand and lack of access to this medicine in Guatemala, it cost approximately 20,000 quetzales ($2,500 dollars). In addition to being scarce, most Guatemalans went to Mexico to get it for a slightly more accessible price.
The family spent the longest two hours of their lives; they were crucial moments because their son told them “I can’t take it anymore”.
José said goodbye to everyone in the room, they never left him alone, they took the best care of him all the time. For the family, expenses rose day by day, so they had to sell a small piece of land they owned to cover all expenses.
The wisdom, patience and love of his parents saved José from this terrible disease, although his recovery was slow, he still has cramps constantly when walking and body weakness.
«The truth is that we have seen that they go to the hospital and end up dying, we did not take him, believe me, if I had taken him, he would not have been alive,» says Antonio.
The health service prior to the pandemic was bad, and with the covid-19 health crisis, it completely collapsed. The doctors took to the streets to demand supplies and budgets on several occasions. During the year 2021 there was a social outbreak, in which all the people complained about the poor conditions and management of the authorities to contain the disease.
The congress was set on fire by the demonstrators; during the marches there were 37 detainees and a dozen injured; the tear gas lasted 8 hours in the capital city. In the interior of the country they also took to the streets, stopping all private transport.
According to the USAC report against Coronavirus and the General Directorate of Research of the University of San Carlos de Guatemala, it details that regarding the situation of covid-19, the mishandling of the situation to supply the population within temporary hospitals, was one of the various triggers of the riots.
The ravages of the virus
In the board, Sololá, the disease devastated the people in the homes, as many decided to do the same as Antonio and Pabla, according to the family at the beginning and during several waves approximately 30 people died in their village.
They even went to inject the sick; they tried to support them unconditionally because of their experience; they knew how to treat covid-19 patients, and those who at some point rejected them now sought their help.
As of November 13, 2021, the National Registry of Persons (RENAP) already registered 105,317 deaths from any cause in Guatemala during that year. An unprecedented figure for a country that historically does not exceed 100,000 deaths per year. The 2015-2019 average is 83,787 annual deaths.
Antonio and Pabla took risks out of love for their son, and even their community. For a long time, out of fear of death, people left a sick family member with covid-19 to their fate.
For the Cosiguá family it was difficult. Depression appeared in their lives. During several quarantines they ran out of food and their children cried from hunger; a brother brought them food and thus survived the confinement. During the interview, tears ran down his face, but at the same time he felt the peace they had because they fought tirelessly for their families.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Government has been supplied with vaccines through donations and on March 11 received its first donation through the COVAX mechanism.
Other countries such as Israel, the United States, and Mexico donated vaccines to the country. Antonio and Paula, when the vaccination days arrived, a year after the pandemic began, they injected themselves, being the first in their village.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINEX) managed more vaccines with Japan, Austria, Qatar, Canada, Spain, and several countries of the European Union. Until June 17, 2022, the country had 4 million 855 thousand donated vaccines.
It was not until Friday, July 23, 2021, that the Congress of the Republic endorsed Decree 1-2021, Law for the Financing and Acquisition of Vaccines Against the Covid-19 Coronavirus, according to the information portal of the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala.
The first purchase of vaccines arrived on November 19, 2021. Guatemala received 1 million 350 doses of the Pfizer vaccine against covid-19 to continue with the vaccination plan to immunize Guatemalans.
«These doses were purchased by the Government of Guatemala through the COVAX mechanism, a global initiative for equitable access to vaccines against the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus,» according to the portal of the Pan American Health Organization. (PAHO).
The data warehouse in its registry shares that to date 51% of the total population has been vaccinated with the first dose and 40% with the second dose; so far 19,698 deaths have been reported, since the start of the pandemic.
In an investigation carried out by El Periodico published on May 3, 2022, it revealed that there were “6 million 893 thousand 992 doses stored in the cold rooms of the National Center for Biologicals (CNB) of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS). Expiration of the COVID-19 vaccine.