Since January 2020, when the world went on alert about the coronavirus, Brazilian service members have been intensifying the fight against the pandemic. The same has happened in the majority of Latin American countries that rely on the armed forces to strengthen measures against the spread of the virus. Assignments for personnel and equipment may vary, from closing land borders to producing hand sanitizer in military laboratories.
For General Edson Leal Pujol, commander of the Brazilian Army (EB, in Portuguese), this current battle “may be the most important mission of our generation,” he said in a statement to Brazilian service members, on March 24. “In this moment of crisis, one of our responsibilities to the nation is that our troops will remain operational to fight this challenge and make a difference.”
In Brazil, a joint operations center located in Brasilia coordinates service members’ operations, which are distributed to 10 regional joint commands nationwide. The operation has about 20,000 service members from the EB, Brazilian Navy, and Brazilian Air Force (FAB, in Portuguese), said on April 1 Brazilian Defense Minister General Fernando Azevedo e Silva.
To date, the main courses of action include the preparation of spaces to screen suspected cases and to provide health care to patients who have tested positive for COVID-19. A field hospital with 1,200 beds was built in the city of Boa Vista, capital of Roraima state, to provide care to Brazilians and, for the most part, Venezuelan refugees who are already in Brazil. Roraima shelters about 5,000 Venezuelan immigrants.
EB helped set up tents to screen citizens with flu symptoms in at least 12 cities of the south and southeast regions. These facilities are being built in open areas adjacent to hospitals to avoid the concentration of people within health care facilities.
With the shortage of hand sanitizer, the Brazilian government opted to use Armed Forces’ laboratories to manufacture the product. EB’s pharmaceutical unit aims to produce 180,000 units of 3 fluid ounces hand sanitizer bottles within the coming weeks. FAB’s laboratory should have 2,100 gallons of the product by next month. The hand sanitizer will first be distributed to service members and health organizations of the Armed Forces.
Military laboratories are also participating in the manufacture of chloroquine. The medication is being tested in several countries as a possible treatment for COVID-19. According to the Brazilian Ministry of Defense, production in military units may reach 500,000 chloroquine pills a week.
Brazil remains the nation with the greatest number of patients infected with coronavirus and deaths caused by COVID-19 across Latin America.