Brazil once eliminated preventable diseases. They are coming back | health news

This reportage was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Santana, Brazil – When Pamela Serrao’s six-month-old baby Arthur started getting bright red hives, the last thing on her mind was measles.

That’s because his rural town in northern Brazil, like much of the Americas, had officially eradicated the disease. In Brazil, that 2016 milestone was the product of a world-renowned government vaccination program that dates back decades.

Yet six years later, the country is one of many around the world experiencing a resurgence of these kinds of preventable diseases.

The Amazonian state of Amapá, in Serrao, has now become the epicenter of measles outbreaks in the South American country, outbreaks that local health authorities struggle to control amid insufficient health resources, turmoil in the government of President Jair Bolsonaro and anti-vaccine sentiments fueled by coronavirus misinformation.

Well into that terrifying March night, Serrao and his mother cradled the feverish baby, hoping to calm him down or get him to eat.

Serrao, 15, had no recollection of the measles, diphtheria and polio outbreaks of decades past, frantically wondering what could be ailing the baby as his mother recalled her own measles infection as a child.

“I knew what measles was,” recalls Serrao. “But I never imagined that he would enter the house, because we had not heard about it for so long. We end up forgetting about these diseases.”

Pamela Serrao cradles her baby Arthur at her home in Santana, Brazil, on April 13, 2022. [Megan Janetsky/Al Jazeera]

Arthur was taken to a hospital a few hours away, worried the virus could cause his throat to close up. “It’s something that needs treatment or it could die,” he remembers thinking. “I felt so desperate down his throat, thinking ‘My God, if we don’t take care of him, the hospital here doesn’t have mechanical ventilators.'”

Around the world, childhood vaccinations have been significantly reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020 alone, the global health crisis left at least 23 million children worldwide unvaccinated, according to figures from the World Health Organization. And in Latin America and the Caribbean, one in four children has been exposed to a disease that can be prevented by vaccination.

It’s a relapse that health experts say could take decades to reverse.

“The decline in vaccination rates in the region is alarming and puts millions of children and adolescents at risk of dangerous diseases that could be prevented,” Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a statement. .

Gough said the solution lies in a strong vaccination program, but in Brazil, that may be easier said than done.

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