Paraguay is located at the heart of South America. With a population of approximately seven million citizens, this country is rich in natural resources and has a reasonably stable macroeconomy. Nonetheless, its high levels of poverty and inequality increases Paraguay’s vulnerability to the spread of the Coronavirus disease as well as the potential economic impact that social distancing measures bring. Having these issues in mind, the government implemented strong preventive measures as soon as the second patient was diagnosed with COVID-19.
As of the writing of this article, Paraguay stands as the country with the lowest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Southern Cone and has been distinguished from its neighbors because of the creative solutions implemented to face an unprecedented health crisis.
Record Time Hospitals
In less than 30 days, Paraguay built two hospitals that will be dedicated exclusively to the care of patients with COVID-19. The two new hospitals are located in Asunción (more specifically at the National Institute for Respiratory and Environmental Diseases, INERAM by its Spanish acronym) and Itaguá, and are meant to solve the hospital beds deficit of the paraguayan health system. INERAM will have 100 beds for patients and 36 beds for doctors, while the hospital in Itaguá will add 102 beds for patients and 24 beds for doctors. Both projects were led by young Paraguayan engineers and provided employment for 200 people in the construction of each hospital. Furthermore, these projects provided an income for 300 people who were involved in the manufacturing process of mattresses and an additional 60 who participated in the fabrication of beds. Moreover, all of the materials used in the construction of both hospitals are national; benefitting local producers.
Communities that Save Lives
The “Ollas Populares” are well-known in Paraguay as a response to times of hardship. These are large meals usually cooked by communities in need using collective ingredients. However, the hard economic situations experienced by workers who live by the day has rekindled the spirit of solidarity that characterizes Paraguayans and motivated the entire society to contribute with the organization of the “Ollas Populares”. In less than 30 days, the Saint John Foundation (Fundación San Jose) distributed 22,000 meals and 1,859 kits of food supplies and the organization “Olla Popular Paraguay” distributed 10,130 meals and 37,100 snacks besides several other initiatives taking place within paraguayan communities. The web page called “Social Map” gathers social initiatives aimed at counteracting the impacts of COVID-19. In this site, more than 88 organizations have registered their “Ollas Populares”, committing themselves to distributing between 50 to 600 meals per day in vulnerable communities. Even more, the company Perez Ramirez which imports and distributes household appliances and gastronomic equipment, joined the cause by lending large pans to those individuals who are willing to cook and contribute to alleviate hunger.
Currently, Paraguay is getting ready to begin a new strategy denominated “Smart Quarantine”. This consists of four phases and intends to return to the “new normal” by sectors. During the first phase, industries, service providers at the client’s premises, individual physical activity and delivery and collection systems may resume their activities. In the second phase, commercial stores of up to 800 m2, corporate offices, civil works, professional sports and cultural events may be resumed. The third phase contemplates that commercial stores with more than 800 m2 and sport complexes may resume their activities. Finally, in the fourth phase, bars, restaurants, events, hospitality and other sectors may resume their activities. By this means, it is expected to resume activities gradually while maintaining social distancing and hygiene measures.
Initiatives of this kind motivate Paraguayans to join forces to face the current health crisis. Nonetheless, many more challenges persist. Paraguay has not yet reached the peak of contagion. When this occurs, it is expected that the health system, along with the two newly built hospitals, are sufficiently equipped and prepared to provide attention to all of those COVID-19 patients that require so. While the “Ollas Populares” succeed in providing meals to thousands of hungry families, this initiative must be complemented with effective governmental programs which secure assistance and protection for the most vulnerable sectors. Moreover, for the Smart Quarantine strategy to succeed, communication and awareness programs will be required so that citizens have the necessary information to comply adequately. In the following days, many more challenges will come and the room to grow remains vast. Hopefully, Paraguay will find the strength and audacity to face this crisis in the best possible way.
Civilab. (2020). Mapa de comunidades y ollas populares. Retrieved from https://mapasocial.civilab.org.py/mapa-necesidades
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Comunicaciones. (2020). Seis claves del éxito de los hospitales construidos en tiempo récord. Retrieved from https://www.mopc.gov.py/mopcweb/index.php/noticias/seis-claves-del-exito-de-los-hospitales-construidos-en-tiempo-record
Ministerio de Salud Pública y Bienestar Social. (2020). Cuarentena Inteligente. Retrieved from https://www.mspbs.gov.py/portal/20827/gobierno-nacional-presenta-plan-de-cuarentena-inteligente.html
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