By Vatican News
Father José Barranco is a Comboni missionary based in Ecuador, the Latin American nation most affected by the coronavirus. Speaking to Vatican News, he describes the situation in Guayaquil, a port city of 2.3 million inhabitants, and home to almost half of the 2,700 positive cases of Covid-19 in the country.
The situation throughout Ecuador is very difficult, he says, “but in Guayaquil it is catastrophic”.
The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a double health emergency in Ecuador: firstly, because the health system has collapsed, and secondly because the bodies of the dead are accumulating in houses and streets, waiting to be taken to the cemetery.
Ecuador’s President, Lenin Moreno, has confirmed that around 150 bodies are collected daily from homes and public spaces. But this is not enough. Morgues are full and many funeral homes refuse to provide mortuary services for fear of contagion.
The health system can't cope because medical equipment and staff are lacking. Doctors and nurses are working up to 16 hours a day, doing double shifts.
The extent of the epidemic is partly due to the population not adhering to government instructions to stay at home, says Fr Barranco. But in the vast poverty-stricken areas of Guayaquil it is difficult to impose quarantine. A house is often just one room, he says, “where three, four or even five people live together, and there is little food. What are they supposed to do?”.
Everyone is trying to respond as best they can, says Fr Barranco. But whatever the government, the Church, or medical personnel try to do in this situation, “is not enough”.
The Church’s response
Fr Barranco says the Catholic Church is offering both physical and spiritual support to those in need. He gives the example of a hospital run by the Guayaquil Archdiocese. The structure does not have the capacity to assist Covid-19 sufferers, but it does admit patients with other pathologies.
This helps alleviate some of the pressure from the public health care system. The same hospital is also providing medical advice through a telephone service.
Faith and hope
Local Catholic parishes are working with the government on its "Together we feed more people" program. They act as collection and distribution points for food rations which are vital at this time, as many people are suffering from hunger.
Fr Barranco is also Director of the National Catholic Radio in the capital city of Quito. He says these same parishes are providing liturgies and moments of prayer through the media. All of these gestures, he concludes, aim to "sow faith and hope".