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A woman named Thalita Rocha, in an Instagram video that went viral, made an emotional plea from the city of Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon. “We are in a deplorable situation,” she said. “Whoever has oxygen availability, bring it here to the polyclinic. Many people are dying.”
Rocha saw patients suffocate to death in the hospital where her mother-in-law was being treated in mid-January. She saw doctors cry. She dropped to her knees and prayed. “It looked like the end of the world,” she said, according to the Washington Post.
The fight to save lives in this isolated area of the Brazilian Amazon has become a desperate effort to get oxygen to hospitals.
Pope Francis offered public prayers for people of the region after a local bishop, Archbishop Leonardo Steiner of Manaus, pleaded January 15, “We bishops of Amazonas and Roraima make an appeal: For the love of God, send us oxygen.”
Responding to that urgent request, the U.S.-based Knights of Columbus has now sent more than $200,000 worth of concentrated oxygen and personal oxygen concentrator devices to the Amazon regions of Brazil and Peru.
That includes 200 10-cubic-meter tanks for the Manaus area.
“We know this is a small effort, but it’s a beginning and we hope it encourages others to provide support,” a spokesman for the Knights, told Aleteia on Friday.
With the help of the local Church in Brazil, the Knights located the oxygen in a neighboring state. It will be transported by truck into Manaus, along with regulators. The city of 2.2 million is reportedly difficult to reach, as two main highways serving the metropolis suffer from disrepair.
“We will remain in communication with our contacts in the Amazon and will try to determine how and if we can be of further assistance,” said the spokesman. “Thanks to our long history in the Church, the Knights of Columbus have a number of relationships with local Church officials and religious communities present in these locations.”
“In solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Amazon region, we could not fail to act,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “The Knights of Columbus, in this instance, had both the resources and the appropriate connections to respond rapidly to this critical need.”
Family members have stood in line for hours to refill oxygen tanks for loved ones struggling to stay alive at home due to a lack of hospital beds.
As of Friday, according to the World Health Organization, Brazil has had over 9.6 million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 235,000 deaths.
Aid to Peru
While planning aid for the Archdiocese of Manaus, the Knights learned of a similar need in another part of the Amazon. The Knights of Columbus is also delivering self-contained oxygen concentrators as well as oxygen tanks to the Territorial Prelature of Santiago Apóstol de Huancané in Peru. The prelature, which was established in 2019, includes a portion of the Peruvian Amazon and reaches into the Andes mountains.
Oxygen concentrators take ambient air and remove nitrogen in order to supply a steady, concentrated supply of oxygen for use in therapeutic settings.
“In speaking with hospitals in Peru, the request was made not only for tanks of oxygen, which are essential for critically ill patients, but also for these concentrators, which are extremely helpful for patients who are more stable and those who are continuing to recuperate,” the spokesman said. “The great thing about these concentrators is that not only can they provide essentially an infinite supply of oxygen, but also the units we located can be run even on solar generated power, which comes in handy in remote areas.”
Bishop Giovanni Cefai, expressed gratitude for the Knights’ initiative.
“Even if we save just one life it is worth it,” Bishop Cefai said. “Imagine that we will be saving hundreds of lives.”
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