NicaNotes: Should Nicaragua be Held to A Higher Standard in Relation to Covid-19?

By Nan McCurdy

Nicaragua had its first case of Covid-19 March 18, and up until May 11 had only 25 confirmed cases. The Health Ministry, incredibly, was able to push off community contagion for nearly two months, in part, by careful contact tracing and close monitoring of all Covid-positive contacts. Only recently have a few places in the United States begun trying to do contact tracing.

Their prevention, education, detection and containment at the airport and border crossings were also admirable. I am one who was sent to quarantine and called by a doctor every other day. When there was suspicion that someone coming from another country might have had contact with a positive case the person was monitored at a government facility and tested repeatedly. They also did random tests of staff and patients at health centers and hospitals to rule out community contagion.

From March 18 to May 11 the positive cases were people who had come to Nicaragua already infected or those who came in contact with them. At the same time some 470 people who had come in contact with the 25 positive cases were being tested and monitored.

By May 19 the Health Ministry was counting as positive not only people who tested positive, but also those with Covid symptoms and reported a total of 279 probable cases out of the 470 being monitored. Most of the 279 were still people who had had contact with the initial 25 and were being monitored in a hospital setting. Of the total of 279, 199 recovered, 17 died and 63 still had the virus.

As of May 26 the total number of probable Covid cases (people who tested positive or had the symptoms) was up to 759 people. Of the 759 total cases, 370 are people who have recuperated, 35 died and 354 are still active.

Nicaragua is under attack from the US, the US-led Nicaraguan opposition and their many media arms locally and internationally and recently they have used the Covid-19 crisis to tell straight out lies and create fake news at every turn.

On April 2, US financed opposition media 100% Noticias interviewed their ‘expert doctor’ Alvaro Ramirez who said that by May 10 there would be more than 23,000 deaths from Covid.

Screenshot of 100% Noticias report taken from Facebook

Also in April a string of mainstream media attacks beginning with the BBC accused Nicaragua of taking “no measures at all” in the face of the virus threat, a complete lie seeing as we were the first country in the region to begin taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

One of the current opposition angles of attack is the rapid increase in Covid-19 numbers from May 11 to May 26.

Numbers have gone up exponentially in the last two weeks which is normal with Covid-19. If there were 25 cases on May 10, given the exponential growth of this virus the cases double every three days, thus we would expect 800 cases by May 26. And there are 759 cases.

It’s interesting that many nations have revised their Covid-19 numbers. China, France and Italy did, and the UK belatedly added deaths in care homes to its (already high) total. In mid-April New York abruptly added some 3,700 “presumed” COVID-19 deaths to their total fatalities. The New York Times looked at numbers from Ecuador and concluded there was massive undercounting.

Switzerland’s population is about a million more than Nicaragua’s. They’ve had nearly 31,000 positive cases of Covid-19 and 1648 deaths. Switzerland is a much, much richer country and surely has more means to care for people than the second most impoverished country in the Americas.

The point is that It is unfair to hold Nicaragua to a higher standard than elsewhere.

On May 25 Nicaragua published a detailed White Paper on its Actions and Strategies in Relation to Covid-19.

Contrary to the mainstream media, on May 12 the International Monetary Fund recognized Nicaragua for adopting measures against Covid-19 on January 30 with the formation of the National Inter-Institutional Commission for the Early Detection, Care and Prevention of COVID-19, preparing hospitals and staff for prevention, detection, containment and treatment as well as exchanging experiences with many countries and international experts. The IMF raised up special preventive measures like disinfection of schools, markets and transportation as well as promotion of hand-washing, distancing and appropriate use of masks while “continuing to prioritize programs to strengthen the social safety net, including provision of food packages for vulnerable families.”

Sandinista Nicaragua was an example for other peoples in the 1980s and continues to be one. Part of the reason it has a good public health care system compared to other governments in the region is that it dedicates 21% of its budget to healthcare whereas the other nations (Costa Rica 3.2%, Honduras 5.6%, Panama 8%, Guatemala 8.9%, El Salvador 11.7%) have reduced health spending and privatized much of what was their public health system back in the early 90s.

 

The number of cases is rising rapidly. Nicaragua is still a very poor country with a critical need for protective materials for healthcare workers and the general public. The US has announced that it will confiscate PPEs, masks and gloves that people attempt to send abroad https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/08/coronavirus-us-customs-will-seize-exports-of-gloves-masks-and-respirators.html. That means we cannot help by sending material aid, but we can send money so the health care system can purchase protective equipment or pay people to sew masks, etc. From May 27-May 31, the Alliance for Global Justice will assume that all credit card donations made through https://afgj.org/donateafgj are intended to help Nicaragua fight the COVID-19 pandemic and we will donate them through our channels there.

 

BRIEFS

By Nan McCurdy

White Paper on Nicaragua’s Actions on Covid-19
A unique Strategy-White Paper that describes activities and strategies implemented to address the Covid-19 pandemic was released by the Sandinista Government on May 25. It summarizes how Nicaragua prepared for this fight against Covid-19 in part due to the strengthening of the health system from 2007 to 2020 and many preparations since January 2020. (Radiolaprimerisima, 5/25/20, Tortillaconsal.com)

Nicaragua Carefully Monitors all Incoming Travelers
The Health Ministry reported that from March 18th when the first Covid-19 case was detected till May 19, they have monitored 42,326 travelers coming to Nicaragua through border crossings from Costa Rica, Honduras and through the airport. Those entering were questioned and counseled and sent to quarantine for a 21- day period. Health Minister Martha Reyes stated that so far 279 Covid positive cases have been detected by tests or symptoms. Of these, 199 people have recovered, 17 are deceased and 63 are active and undergoing treatment. Thirty-nine individuals are being monitored and tested as they came in contact with a positive case. (Nicaragua News, 5/20/20)

Nicaragua Avoids Added Poverty of Quarantines
Health Minister Martha Reyes, in a video conference of the Non-Aligned Movement to evaluate the situation of Covid-19 in the 125 member states said, “January 21, Nicaragua activated the Covid-19 Prevention and Management Protocol, designating and equipping 19 hospitals for the care of cases. Likewise, 4.6 million house visits were made to educate the population on preventive measures; periodic disinfection of public spaces and transportation units is being carried out.” The Minister said that Nicaragua avoided shutting down the economy. She explained, “As countries emerge from quarantines that have destroyed the world economy, we must learn to fight the virus and at the same time function as caring societies avoiding an increase in poverty and inequality to ensure a fairer and healthier future of hope for all.” (Nicaragua News, 5/21/20)

Costa Rica Group in Solidarity with Nicaragua
The Costa Rican Committee of Solidarity with Nicaragua sent a condemnation of the reactionary groups in Costa Rica that are once again working against the Nicaraguan people and their revolutionary government, taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic. The declaration said, “The enemies of our peoples hypocritically express concern that Nicaragua did not have confinement nor the anxiety produced by alarmist attitudes. Nicaragua began to prepare itself as soon as it was notified of the danger of Covid-19. [Nicaragua] built new medical centers and made 19 hospitals available to Nicaraguans… and followed the WHO guidelines.”  The declaration also stated, “In the US 20 Costa Ricans have died, some without being able to buy health insurance.” The statement adds, “The ‘concern’ of the US, in the best style of the Hitler hordes, is to sow the idea that Nicaragua is to blame for the increase in deaths from Covid-19, as if El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica or Panama no longer had any sources of infection.” Instead of these counter-revolutionary campaigns which seek to separate our peoples, “the Committee calls on countries to work together, respecting differences, against a coronavirus that has shown that there is still no science to stop it.” (Radiolaprimerisima, 5/24/20)

Panama Thanks Nicaragua for Care of 3 Truckers
The Government of Panama, through its ambassador in Nicaragua, José de Jesús Martínez, thanked Nicaragua for the support given to three national transporters that were on their way to Panama, and showed positive results for COVID-19 as they were stuck in the line to get into Costa Rica. “The three carriers unfortunately tested positive in COVID-19, and they could not cross the border Nicaragua-Costa Rica. Ambassador Martínez said that one of the transporters has diabetes and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health has provided him with medications. “I want to acknowledge the support the Nicaraguan Government gave him at all times … MINSA offered assistance, medicines, insulin and hospitalized him in San Carlos.” (Radiolaprimerisima, 5/23/20)

Improvements at Women’s Hospital
Remodeled operating rooms at the Bertha Calderón Hospital in Managua were inaugurated May 20. The project included installation of a new electricity and emergency system in four operating rooms. The US$470,588 financing is part of the Hospital Maintenance and Repair Cooperation Agreement between MINSA and Taiwan. (Nicaragua News, 5/21/20)

2,000 More Loans for Women
The government microloan program, Zero Usury, provided financing to 2,000 women in 67 municipalities for the installation and expansion of small restaurants and other micro-businesses. The financing is part of the Plan to Strengthen Productive and Organizational Capabilities of the Creative Economy Model implemented by the government. (Nicaragua News, 5/21/20)

Women’s Police Station in Matagalpa
The Police delegation of Matagalpa re-launched the local Women’s Police Station to give better attention to women who place complaints of violence. During the activity, Commissioner General Ramón Avellán recalled that the mission of the Police is to provide protection and justice to women and children who are victims of physical and psychological violence. “We have increased the number of police investigators, improved the building, and have more technical equipment to attend to our female colleagues with dignity and comfort,” Avellán said. (Radiolaprimerismima, 5/21/20)

US Sanctions Government Functionaries and ALBA-TCP Protests
On May 22, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Commander in Chief of the Army Julio César Avilés Castillo and Iván Adolfo Acosta Montalván, minister of Finance and Public Credit, for working for the Nicaraguan government. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said “The Ortega regime’s continued violations of human rights, blatant corruption and widespread violence against the Nicaraguan people are unacceptable.” Avilés and Acosta are designated under Executive Order 13851 “Blocking of assets of certain persons contributing to the situation in Nicaragua.” If they had assets in the US they would be frozen. In addition, any entity owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more is also blocked. Political Analyst William Grigsby on his radio show Sin Fronteras said that the US is punishing Army head Avilés because he didn’t cooperate with the United States in 2018 to overthrow the government. The ALBA-TCP (Bolivarian Alliance – People’s Trade Treaty) condemned the unilateral US coercive measures and rejected this type of action especially during a pandemic, as “it shows the very serious lack of ethics and humanity of the US government.” (100% Noticias, 5/22/20; Sin Fronteras, 5/25/20, Radiolaprimerisima, 5/25/20