Mexico has world’s third highest COVID death rate, high distrust in public health system

Mexico now has more than 52,000 coronavirus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. It has nearly 500,000 reported cases, although that number is probably much higher. 

People are going to the hospital at the absolute last minute — because of widespread distrust in the country’s underfunded public health system. That’s according to Carrie Kahn, NPR international correspondent based in Mexico City. 

“There isn’t a lot of trust in the institution, the care. They have expanded and increased capacity greatly for public hospitals throughout the country. But they are woefully underfunded. And they have a very big shortage of personnel,” she says. “Doctors, nurses, even the cleaning crew, laboratory technicians — they are catching COVID at increasing rates. … And the death rate among health care professionals is very high. So it’s a very dysfunctional system right now.” 

She says that chronic diseases — diabetes, obesity, and hypertension — are also very high in Mexico and leading to the large number of deaths. 

Coronavirus testing is also extremely low. “I would have to pay a private institution to go get tested right now. Health care workers aren’t getting tested. … So we don’t really know the full picture of what’s happening here,” she says.

Meanwhile, there’s no consistent messaging from the Mexican government about what to do. “You hear him [the president] sometimes say, ‘We all have to take care of each other, you have to keep your distance.’ But we never see the president with a mask on.”

The government has set up a traffic light color-coded system for reopening the economy, but it’s sporadic. “It depends [on] who’s doing it, and who’s enforcing it. But in Mexico City and the metropolitan area here, home to 22 million people, this is where the outbreak is the hottest. And most of the region is still in red,” says Kahn. 

— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski