As Olympics Approach, Rio de Janeiro’s Hospitals Running Out of Medicine

Rio de Janeiro’s hospitals are running out of syringes and basic medications, and their staffs are running on little-to-no pay, with one month to go before the city hosts the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Portugal’s RTP visited Rio de Janeiro and found nurses and doctors protesting for their salaries and demanding the government properly stock their workplaces. “The public health system is in collapse,” RTP asserted, noting that the average nurse lives off of little more than $220 a month in the city and has not even received that this month.

A nurse told RTP that needles and basic painkillers are commonly missing. “We have to improvise,” he told the outlet, noting that shortages are a routine “impediment.”

Doctors in the city are warning tourists who are planning to visit Rio de Janeiro not to do so if they do not have health insurance, as service prices increase with demand.

Rio de Janeiro’s medical system has been bordering collapse for months, though the situation has deteriorated as the city and state government’s have poured millions into Olympic facilities at the expense of public services. In January, for example, the Brazilian outlet O Globo spoke to a woman who had spent two months looking for accessible medical care, taking her broken arm to various family clinics and finding severe shortages. “Family clinics have no remedies, no anti-inflammatory medications, no remedy for hypertension, nothing,” she protested.

In March, O Globo found Rio’s Pedro Ernesto University Hospital (Hupe) near closing, lacking “basic materials for surgeries” and common medicines. “It’s horrible. Poor people need public hospitals. My neighborhood has four family clinics, but… I go here [in Hupe] and I’m leaving without care,” a retired local told the newspaper.

Public health is not the only service barely functioning in Rio de Janeiro state. Law enforcement has been hit especially badly, with police stations so lacking in resources that they are depending on locals to donate toilet paper. Last week, over 300 police officers protested before Rio de Janeiro’s regional government offices demanding their salaries to continue work, as well as funds for gasoline for their patrol cars and basic stationary. A group of officers protested in Rio city’s international airport, holding a sign that read “Welcome to Hell.”

Elsewhere in the city, newly-minted graffiti reads in English: “Welcome – we don’t have hospitals!”

The crises are related; due to a lack of security, armed gunmen stormed the Hospital Souza Aguiar in Rio de Janeiro in June, killing a patient and helping a drug trafficker known as “Fat Family” escape. The hospital has been designated the service venue for Olympic athletes, organizers, and tourists.

Shortly after that incident, robbers stormed a pharmacy in Rio’s North Zone. The robbers used a blowtorch to open the pharmacy’s safe.

Rio de Janeiro Governor Francisco Dornelles is demanding $900 million in federal emergency funding to get through the Olympics, suggesting police may not be able to function at all without it. Dornelles predicted a “total breakdown in public security” without the funds.

“We can make a great Olympics, but if some steps are not taken, it can be a big failure,” he added in a separate interview.

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