NicaNotes: Nicaragua and the COVID-19 pandemic

By Stephen Sefton, Tortilla con Sal, March 29th 2020

http://www.tortillaconsal.com/tortilla/node/8954

Brigadistas visit house by house (Photo: Voz del Sandinismo)

While each country’s experience facing the COVID-19 pandemic is different, some common fundamental factors can make the difference between widespread catastrophe and relative stability. Nicaragua has so far been among the most successful countries in Latin America in protecting its population from the virus while also maintaining normal economic life. As of March 28th, Nicaragua has three confirmed cases with one fatality. Another 14 people who may have the virus are under observation but have so far tested negative.

Nicaragua’s public health system offers free, universal health services based on community-focused preventative care. The national network of hospitals, health centers and health posts is supported by a network of tens of thousands of volunteer health promoters called brigadistas. Over the last week, health personnel and brigadistas have visited over 1.2 million households in an education and monitoring campaign to address the pandemic.

Since the country is still in the first phase of the pandemic, the government has prioritized prevention and education. Its borders remain open, as do the country’s schools and public offices. Public events have not been canceled. Business, travel and trade activities continue without restrictions. Ever since January, when the World Health Organization declared a health emergency in relation to the COVID-19 virus, Nicaragua’s government team has coordinated closely with the Panamerican Health Organization, following the relevant protocols for the different phases of the pandemic. Nicaragua’s authorities have promoted an intense education campaign aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. The principal measures the government has stressed during the current first phase of the pandemic in Nicaragua have been the importance of thorough hand washing for at least 20 seconds with soap and water and taking care when sneezing or coughing so as not to infect other people.

Travelers arriving from countries where the virus is active are told to self-isolate for 14 days with follow up from health personnel to check how they are. Other measures frequently promoted every day via radio, television, social networks, posters and printed materials have been: cleaning constantly-used surfaces like desks, phones and computers, work surfaces and toys; keeping a physical distance of at least 1.5 meters when talking with other people; and, most importantly, reporting to the nearest health unit at signs of possible symptoms of the virus. Once the second phase of the pandemic begins, requiring measures of containment, then the government may well ban public events, close schools, enforce social distancing, limit travel and seek to maximize work from home.

Likewise, in any third phase involving potential uncontrolled spread of the virus among the population, more extreme measures may be taken such as the general quarantine already applied in countries like Venezuela or Argentina. The government has prepared the public health system and the National System of Disaster Prevention’s (SINAPRED) civil defense system along with the country’s armed forces for that eventuality. At a regional level, Nicaragua has coordinated closely with the mechanisms of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and the system’s member governments. SICA has produced a regional contingency plan aiming to protect people from the pandemic and treat those affected while maintaining regional economic life and security.

Photo: Jairo Cajina/Canal 4

Nicaragua is one of the few countries in the region with a laboratory of molecular biology approved by the World Health Organization. Its director has said it is the only laboratory in the region that produces the reactive agents for the serological diagnosis of dengue and was the only molecular biology laboratory in Latin America able to diagnose influenza types accurately in 2019. Similarly, Nicaragua has the only public sector plant in Central America producing vaccines. The plant is a joint venture between the Nicaraguan government and the Russian Federation and is preparing to produce the Cuban Interferon Alfa-2-B antiviral medicine for use treating patients with the COVID-19 virus. On March 18th, the “Henry Reeve” Cuban medical brigade arrived in the country, composed of epidemiologists, virologists, intensive care specialists and other expert medical professionals to strengthen Nicaragua’s response to the pandemic. Nicaragua has also participated in regional video conferences facilitated by the Association of Caribbean States, in video conferences with experts from China and has also benefited from the experiences of experts from Taiwan.

For the moment, Nicaragua has been successful preventing the virus from spreading. The authorities have prepared 19 hospitals should the pandemic begin to spread in the general population. 37,206 health workers in both public and private health institutions have been trained in preventive measures, how to identify suspected cases, how to protect fellow health workers, how to provide medical care and how to transfer patients safely between local health units, health centers and hospitals. Similarly, the health ministry has trained 250,000 community health promoters in preventive measures, early identification of patients with symptoms and how to ensure referral of suspected cases to the different health posts, health centers and hospitals.

In Nicaragua, the popular economy of medium, small and micro businesses of all kinds, small farming households and cooperatives across many different industries generate 70% of all employment. The remainder is provided by the public sector along with the private business sector including free trade zone businesses. This economic structure means that a majority of the economically active population depend on daily or weekly income to be able to buy food and other basic items. So for Nicaragua, as for so many other countries impoverished by centuries of rich-country depredation, this makes shutting down the economy practically impossible.

For their part, Nicaragua’s right-wing opposition continue the same relentless disinformation campaigns that they used during their violent, failed coup attempt in 2018, spreading false rumors and scaremongering via their news outlets and social media. At times, this propaganda reaches extreme levels of malevolent hysteria, claiming the government is concealing hundreds of cases of the virus. In interviews, international media uncritically retail the views of inveterate frauds like Confidencial’s Carlos Fernando Chamorro accusing Nicaragua’s President Ortega of not doing enough to address the pandemic. Opposition propagandists like Chamorro lurch insanely from demented accusations of savage dictatorship to phony complaints of laissez faire negligence.

In Nicaragua, as everywhere else in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the unremitting global class war of elites against the impoverished majority. As in the violent, failed 2018 coup attempt, responses in Nicaragua to the crisis generally reflect that class reality. While the country’s right wing opposition elite and their middle class followers dilute their rum and cokes with tears of self-pity, Nicaragua’s salt-of-the-earth workers and rural farming families are once again pulling the economy through hard times. Nicaragua’s Sandinista government’s so far successful measures against the pandemic, as in Cuba and Venezuela despite vicious US sanctions, confirm the superiority of revolutionary grass roots democracy over the all too apparent failures of Western neoliberal plutocracies.

BRIEFS

By Nan McCurdy

Rigorous Prevention Measures at Border Posts
Vice President Rosario Murillo announced on March 28th that all precautionary and preventive measures are being maintained and applied at all entry points in Nicaragua, at airports and at the borders where regional trade circulates. She expressed her admiration, recognition and respect for all those who work in the application of measures of precaution and prevention, migrants, the Ministry of Government, the police, the army, “who are taking care of those who are in transit and taking care of us all. Tests continue to be carried out on people who merit it. All of them have come out negative.” The Penitentiary System and the National Police’s preventive prisons report shows measures are being applied, all is normal and that visits are taking place. (Radiolaprimerisima, 3/28/20)

PAHO Reiterates Support
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reiterated its support for Nicaragua and technical cooperation to combat Covid-19. “We reiterate to Nicaragua our support and technical cooperation to continue working, to continue supporting public health issues and to continue accompanying the preparation for the response to this health emergency of international importance,” said Ana Solis Treasure, PAHO/WHO representative.

During a press conference the night of March 26, she reported “The Pan American Health Organization recognizes that there was an involuntary error in the digitization of one of the instruments it uses for reporting officially confirmed cases in Nicaragua.” It was brought to their attention earlier that day that their website said that Nicaragua had 6 cases, when it actually had 2 cases. “The maps published on our website now show the confirmed cases with the correct data,” said the PAHO representative. “We reiterate that for Nicaragua so far there are only two confirmed cases. We apologize to the people of Nicaragua and their government for the concern this error may have caused,” she said. “This error will be quickly corrected and we will ensure that it is not repeated.” Solís was accompanied by Health Minister Dr. Carolina Dávila, and Health Ministry Secretary General Dr. Carlos Sáenz, who accepted the apologies offered by PAHO on behalf of the Government of Nicaragua. “We ask PAHO/WHO to be more careful in the security and safeguarding of the data issued by the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity of the Republic of Nicaragua,” Saenz said. (Radiolaprimerisima, 3/27/20)

Nicaragua Helps Develop Central America Plan
The Contingency Plan for a united response to the coronavirus of the Central American Integration System (SICA) was approved March 26. With SICA, the Central American governments will promote plans to tackle the coronavirus in three major components: health and risk management; trade and finance; security, justice and migration. To avoid shortages and difficulties in intraregional trade, freedom of transit of goods, in coordination with the Council of Health Ministers of Central America and Dominican Republic (COMISCA), will be ensured. Freedom of transit of goods and their transporters through the countries of the SICA region will be maintained, prioritizing medicines, medical devices and equipment, food, hygiene products and other goods. Indicators for a Regional Impact Study that will support aid requests from international organizations and countries was adopted. The SICA General Secretary will present proposals for financing programs. The governments are considering a proposal to reactivate micro and small enterprises in a uniform manner. They will work on the orderly migration of citizens who are stranded in other countries in order to repatriate them, creating a humanitarian corridor for that purpose. Border security plans will be drawn up and implemented in coordination with local governments, ministries of health, police forces, migration and the armed forces, in order to meet health and security challenges posed by migration. (Radiolaprimerisima, 3/27/20)

US$1.91 Billion from CABEI
Central America Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) Executive President Dante Mossi announced the news of US$1.91 billion to help Central American countries tackle the health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19. Mossi said this program will be implemented in the short and medium term and includes US$550 million in emergency budget support, US$1 billion for central banks, US$350 million to provide liquidity support to commercial banks to support micro, small and medium enterprises and US$2.1 million to purchase 150,000 COVID-19 test kits. In the virtual session Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said that SICA’s plan provides encouragement to the people of Central America and the Dominican Republic. This regional plan follows Nicaragua’s lead, which focuses on small businesses. SICA officials agreed that while the crisis lasts, it will be important to involve small businesses in the purchases and contracts of the States. (Radiolaprimerisima, 3/27/20)

SICA Recognizes Nicaragua’s Efforts
The Secretary General of the Central American Integration System (SICA), Vinicio Cerezo, in a letter to President Daniel Ortega and Vice-President Rosario Murillo, recognized the efforts Nicaragua is making to contain the corona virus and the support of Nicaragua for the region’s contingency plans. The letter thanked them for their determined support and commitment to the region in the midst of this crisis without precedent in recent human history. Cerezo said that he saw in the crisis many challenges to overcome but at the same time he saw the opportunity to construct a new region with more solidarity, social justice, and harmony with the environment. (Informe Pastran, 3/30/20

CELAC and PAHO Learn from Chinese Specialists
During a videoconference held March 24, member countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and representatives of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), exchanged experiences with specialists from China on the management of the CORONAVIRUS crisis. The Chinese officials emphasized that the epidemiological prevention and control mechanism that they applied since January has shown sustained positive results. They also detailed the criteria for blood plasma therapies and oxygenation equipment. The Chinese representatives reiterated their “full disposition to help Latin American and Caribbean countries by sharing their experience in dealing with this healthcare emergency that does not recognize borders or ideologies.” (Nicaragua News, 3/25/20)

Nicaragua and Honduras Cooperate
The Nicaragua and the Honduran Foreign Ministries signed an agreement March 25 to expedite cooperation between their ministries of health to exchange information on confirmed CORONAVIRUS cases. The Armed Forces and immigration offices of both countries will identify and strengthen surveillance at blind spots along the borders to control the flow of migrants and prevent the virus. Customs will maintain normal flow of trade while implementing the necessary sanitary protection measures. This Agreement is part of the Regional Contingency Plan for the Prevention, Containment and Management of coronavirus, established by the Heads of State of the Central American Integration System (SICA) on March 12 this year. (Nicaragua News, 3/26/20)

Patient Number Two Dies
The Ministry of Health announced the death of the person known as patient number two on March 26. He presented multiple health weaknesses associated with his condition as a carrier of the HIV virus. His family members were notified first and the corresponding protocol will be implemented under these circumstances. (Radiolaprimerisima, 3/26/20)

Two New Patients, Both from the US
On March 27, Vice President Rosario Murillo announced two new cases, both recent arrivals from the US: a 70-year-old man and a 52-year-old woman both of whom are being treated according to protocols. (Radioprimerisima, 3/27/20)

Direct Phone Line for Questions about Covid–19
Nicaragua has established a telephone number for concerned citizens to call with questions about the corona virus. Calls on the 24/7 line 132 will be attended by qualified personal. (Nicaragua Sandino, 3/30/20)

Nicaraguan Opposition Makes Wild Accusations about Covid-19 Plans
On March 24 Nicaragua journalists described the treatment of the Covid-19 issue by the opposition as an invasion of lies and false news through social networks. Panelists from the news magazine En Vivo, on channel 4 said that it is wrong to take advantage of the global health crisis for political purposes. “Their only contribution is to lie, create panic and do harm without contributing to the solution of a planetary health crisis,” said journalist Tirsa Saenz about those who use the current situation to try to adversely affect the government. Journalist Adolfo Pastrán referred to a letter sent on March 23 to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) by the National Coalition (opposition), in which they criticize the actions of the PAHO representative in Nicaragua, Ana Emilia Solís, whom they condemn for endorsing the government’s policies of prevention and identification of Covid-19. (Radiolaprimerisima, 3/24/20)

Japan Works Closely with Nicaragua
The governments of Nicaragua and Japan recently signed five grant agreements to finance community projects. Cooperation will be focused on economic, social and environmental protection issues. The objective is to promote stable growth in Nicaragua, the document states. Education is one of the priority areas for Japanese cooperation: Three schools will be expanded in San Juan de Río Coco, Murra and Wiwilí in the north. The purchase of equipment for the electromagnetic and hydraulic-pneumatic control laboratories of the La Salle Polytechnic Institute of León will be financed.  And a project with the El Almendro Mayor’s Office in the Río San Juan Department for solid waste treatment will be financed. (Radiolaprimerisima, 3/28/20)

Government Support for Small Farmers
The Ministry of Family Economy (MEFCCA) will be allocating US$500,000 to 1,300 families in León, Chinandega and Madriz departments to purchase tools for food production. The investment is part of the Creative Economy Program that the government is implementing. (Nicaragua News, 3/30/20)

Trademarks and Patent Reform Law Approved
The National Assembly approved a Reform to Law 380, Trademarks and Other Distinctive Signs to protect intellectual property rights as well as modernize the legal framework that regulates trademarks and other distinctive signs. Wálmaro Gutiérrez, president of the Committee on Economic Affairs, Finance and Budget, stated that “the amendment will allow for the updating of national laws to unify them with regional and international standards, as well as to expedite administrative processes.” (Nicaragua News, 3/25/20)