April 13, 2020 | News | Online Petition by MPIDR-researchers

More Covid-19 tests in Latin America

Three MPIDR-researchers Enrique Acosta, Diego Alburez-Gutierrez and Marília R. Nepomuceno started an online petition to increase the coverage of Covid-19 testing in Latin American and Caribbean countries. In this interview, they explain why that is important.

Ms. Nepomuceno, Mr. Acosta, Mr. Alburez-Gutierrez, how's your petition going, now mid-April?

To date, our initiative has been endorsed by more than 270 scientists and academics in demography and related fields around the globe, including more than 20 researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany. 

That sounds like a success, after just a few weeks. How did it all start?

The initiative was born from discussions among demographers on Twitter, after Enrique tweeted a few descriptive analyses on the evolution of the pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean, and calling attention to the deficient Covid-19 testing coverage in the region and the need for more information.

What happened then?

With the collaboration of a large group of Latinamerican demographers, we wrote a statement to highlight the challenges that the pandemic poses to the region and how these made it even more pressing to have accurate and up-to-date data to inform any strategy for the contention or mitigation of the epidemic. We formed a team of five Latinamerican demographers: Enrique Acosta, Diego Alburez-Gutierrez, Marília R. Nepomuceno, José Manuel Aburto, and Raquel Guimarães. We wrote statements in Spanish, Portuguese, and English together, disseminated the proposal within the scientific community, collected signatures, and communicated it to press and academic outlets.

Why did you three felt the urge to act?

As social scientists, our final goal is to produce knowledge that improves the quality of life and well-being of populations. This is a critical moment in which our opinion as scientists could have a substantial impact on the design of strategies to cope with the pandemic.

That is a big goal. How does the situation look like in Latin America at the moment?

As of today, Latinamerican countries average only 600 tests per million people, and most of the governments have not expressed clear strategies or concerns about improving it. Countries that have successfully reduced contagion and mortality from Covid-19, such as South Korea and Singapore, have implemented strategies based on the combination of identification of cases, contact tracing, and isolation. To put this in perspective, the average coverage of Covid-19 tests in these countries is over 7 thousand per million people. That is over ten times the level in Latin America.

Why is it important to have more people tested for Corona in Latin America?

Compared to the regions that are already under extreme health and economic burden because of the pandemic, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have several additional challenges that may aggravate the negative impacts on the population.

There are four main factors:

  1. The population has a high prevalence of pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, which increase up to 10-times the risk of death.
  2. The healthcare system in the region is precarious and will be saturated much faster than in, for example, Spain and Italy.
  3. The vast inequality in the region makes it more challenging to sustain social confinement measures for long periods. Moreover, these measures can aggravate further inequality and have the risk of increasing the already dramatic levels of violence.
  4. The high level of multigenerational cohabitation in Latin America increases the levels of contagion substantially to older people, who are at the highest risk of developing secondary complications and dying from COVID-19.

What do you hope to achieve with the petition?

We know that the region is very heterogeneous and has limited available resources that constraints the decision-making process. However, at this critical moment, we believe that governments must design and tune their interventions based on evidence to minimize the burden of the pandemic on the population.

Press coverage about the initiative

The dissemination of the statement among the scientific community had the support of several associations, such as the ALAP, PE, PAA, BSPS, and IUSSP. The statement has been reported by important outlets in the region and abroad, such as El Espectador, The New York Times, The Conversation, RedaktionsNetzwerkDeutschland, The Daily Mail, and Plaza Pública.

The online petition's website

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.