MEXICO CITY (Sin Embargo) – The lines to get oxygen have become one of the symbols of the sanitary collapse in Mexico, especially in the capital. At the beginning of the pandemic, people waiting for a plate of food showed the precariousness in which thousands of Mexicans were trapped. Now what they are looking for is not food but oxygen for their relatives sick with coronavirus.
The Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador officially recognizes almost two million contagions and close to 160 thousand deaths, making it the third country globally with the highest number of victims, only surpassed by the United States and Brazil. The President himself is isolated after contracting the disease.
In reality, the figure is much higher. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), 108,000 people died between January and August, which is 45 percent more than the authorities acknowledged at the time. This report revealed that 58 percent of the victims died at home.
In large parts of the country and Mexico City, hospitals are almost collapsed. The country’s capital has a 90 percent occupancy rate, even though thousands of people avoid at all costs setting foot in a medical center because of the danger of contagion and cling to treatment at home.
López Obrador’s government’s objective was always that there would be no images of hospital chaos like those that shook Guayaquil, in Ecuador, in April 2020. The official figures show that the collapse did not reach the medical centers because it was happening in the homes of thousands of Mexicans, out of the media spotlight. The increase in demand for oxygen after the Christmas holidays brought the phenomenon to the surface: thousands of Mexicans are afraid to go to the hospital and choose to be treated by private doctors.
“The tanks are used up in five hours. When one runs out, you have to look for another one. We have three, and I take turns with my brother,” says one user.
The shortage of oxygen has led to the emergence of shady businesses. Many have seen in the chaos an opportunity to make a profit. Some intermediaries have shot up the costs of the tanks, and scams have multiplied: phantom companies offer non-existent services and disappear after collecting an advance payment from people desperate to save the lives of their relatives.
The increase in oxygen prices is simply immoral. There are people who, in their desperation, have even paid 30 thousand pesos (approximately one thousand five hundred dollars) for an oxygen tank. According to the Procuraduría Federal del Consumidor (Profeco), the maximum price found in stores is 10 thousand pesos [500 dollars approximately]. But many establishments are sold out of tanks and concentrators. The logic of the market applied to health operates cruelly: some have a scarce commodity, and others have the urgency that their family member does not run out of oxygen. So they end up paying whatever it takes.
Speculation and increased demand are the causes of these long lines for oxygen, but López Obrador’s government does not intervene.
Claudia Sheinbaum, head of the Mexico City government, has opened several points to refill oxygen for free and a campaign calling for the return of tanks that are not in use. Her government has not been able to avoid long lines outside any establishment where oxygen is distributed.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has become evident that distrust of medical services is widespread. The idea spread that “whoever goes to the hospital does not come back alive” and after seeing numbers presented by the media and the government itself, the expression is not too far from the truth.
The perception in Mexico among the people is not far from reality. A woman whose mother died in an IMSS hospital says: “There is no room in the hospitals, there are no doctors, there are no medicines… People come here to die”.