Friday, April 10, 2020

COVID-19 pandemic and access to healthcare in Brazil's largest cities

The Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea) published yesterday our study looking at 'Urban mobility and access to the healthcare system by patients with suspected and severe cases of COVID-19 in the 20 largest cities of Brazil'. The work is published in Portuguese but there is a Twitter thread with the main findings. In any case, I included a summary of the publication in English below.

obs. This is a by-product of the Access to Opportunities Project. I'm grateful for an amazing team of co-authors who helped me put this piece together in such a short time.


The Covid-19 epidemic crisis is causing a rapid growth in the number of hospitalizations for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Brazil. According to recent studies, this could soon overload the country's public health system (SUS). As of this writing, most of the confirmed cases of Covid-19 are concentrated in the country's largest cities, where the spread of the disease is at a rapid pace and affecting a growing number of people in disadvantaged communities.

In this policy report, we analyze accessibility to healthcare services in Brazil's 20 largest cities. The research focuses on how easily patients with suspected and severe cases of COVID-19 could reach public health facilities. The study has two purposes:
  1. In the first half of the report we estimate how many vulnerable people (low-income above 50 years old) live in areas with poor access to healthcare facilities that could either screen suspected cases of Covid-19 or provide hospitalization of severe cases with the support of ICU beds and mechanical ventilators.
  2. In the second half, we estimate the ratio between the number of ICU beds and mechanical ventilators available at each hospital and the population living withing its catchment area.
These two analyses combined provide actionable information to local authorities. The study puts disadvantaged communities with poor access to health services on the map, indicating in which neighborhoods local authorities could build makeshift hospitals or develop strategies via pre-hospital care with mobile units or through the work of health community agents. This research also helps local authorities identify which hospitals could more likely struggle with the rising demand for hospitalizations, and hence would need investments to expand capacity.