Knights of Columbus donate oxygen to areas of Peru, Brazil hard hit by COVID-19

By CNA Staff

Bishop Giovanni Cefai, Bishop of the Prelature of Santiago Apóstol de Huancané, receives oxygen concentrators from the Knights of Columbus. / ACI Prensa – Diego López Marina

CNA Staff, Mar 3, 2021 / 05:33 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, has made two major donations of medical oxygen to areas in Peru and Brazil experiencing shortages for treating COVID-19 patients.

The donations were sent in February to Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas and the surrounding areas, and to Huancané, a city in the Peruvian Andes in the region of Puno.

In both Manaus and Huancané, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused not only a substantial increase in the number of deaths, but also a shortage of medical oxygen along with an increasing demand in order to save lives.

In Peru, the Knights sent 15 oxygen concentrators and 50 oxygen tanks to the Prelature of Santiago Apóstol (St. James the Apostle) of Huancané in southern Peru.

A February 26 report from the Puno Regional Health Directorate said the number of people hospitalized had risen to 203 patients, with 20 of them in intensive care. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Puno has seen 41,471 coronavirus cases and 1,244 deaths.

Peru has a major nationwide shortage of oxygen and molecular tests, and has one of the highest COVID-19 observed case-fatality ratios in the world. With a population of more than 32 million people, and a total of 1,332,939 cases of COVID-19, the death toll to date has reached 46,685 (3.5%) – almost twice the percentage of the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

The oxygen donated by the Knights of Columbus arrived in Huancané on February 23. The official delivery to the medical authorities took place on February 26 in a ceremony with volunteers, priests, doctors and representatives of healthcare clinics that are served by only one hospital, from the provinces of Moho, Sandia, Putina and Huancané, which make up the prelature.

During the ceremony, Bishop Giovanni Cefai, a native of Malta who heads the prelature and a member of the Missionary Society of Saint Paul, reminded the doctors of the Huancané healthcare system that “patients are not numbers, they are people.”

“Love them, because maybe some of them will…die in your arms. Accompany them humanely and put into action this human value which we had almost forgotten before the pandemic began,” he said, urging the doctors to in no way profit from what was generously donated.

Speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Cefai expressed his gratitude for the donation. “Words really fail me to thank our brother Knights of Columbus. I don’t know how to express what is going on in both my mind and heart, because each oxygen tank represents a patient breathing, thanks be to God, and pulling away from death and breathing life,” he said.

The bishop stressed, “If we save just one life, all the effort is worth it.”

“Imagine how…many hundreds of lives we will be saving,” he said, and added, “Jesus gives us an opportunity to experience mercy with this contribution in the face of such need.”

Cefai recalled that several days ago a woman came to him in tears, asking him to help her get an oxygen concentrator to save her mother. Given the situation, he didn’t hesitate to lend her one.

“She departed from me in tears to go see this person with this oxygen concentrator, because it’s like giving life to give it to her mother. There are many more stories like this one. The pandemic has hit us hard,” the bishop said.

The woman he was referring to is Lourdes Machicao Claros, a nurse from Puno whose entire family came down with COVID-19. Her mother was the hardest hit of the 12 family members. Machicao told ACI Prensa that if Cefai hadn’t lent her the oxygen concentrator, her mother would have died in a short time.

“If we hadn’t gotten it, my mom would have been laid to rest, but now she’s fine thanks to the concentrator. Now she’s recovering satisfactorily. I am deeply grateful for this and to this organization that had the courage and willingness to donate and save lives. We will be eternally grateful,” the woman said.

Her sister, María Machicao Claros, said their mother will continue to be “dependent on oxygen until her saturation level reaches normal,” and she thanked Cefai and the Knights of Columbus for making her mom’s recovery possible.

“When my mother’s treatment is finally over, we will return the concentrator so other people who are also going through the same thing can use it. With all our heart, we are truly very grateful to the prelature and the Knights of Columbus,” she told ACI Prensa.

Dr. Henry Núñez García, a surgeon and head of the Huancané Healthcare Network, told ACI Prensa that the donation “is a tool that will help save lives, because it has been shown in this pandemic that oxygen therapy is a vital treatment to sustain patients in critical condition and so they don’t have to be intubated.”

In addition to helping with oxygen, the Prelature of Santiago Apóstol de Huancané provides daily lunches to poor elderly people in the area.  Cefai also personally brings food donations to rural people living in extreme poverty.

In Brazil, the Knights of Columbus donated 204 oxygen tanks for the city of Manaus and for 15 rural and remote municipalities where the need was extremely urgent.

In Brazil, to date there have been 10.6 million positive cases of COVID-19 and some 256,000 deaths (2.4%). In the state of Amazonas, where Manaus is located, more than 317,000 positive cases and approximately 11,000 deaths (3.5%) have been reported so far.

Faced with a shortage of oxygen tanks, Archbishop Leonardo Steiner of Manaus requested help from the Knights of Columbus. The donation arrived on February 15.

Of the donated tanks, 24 stayed in Manaus and the rest went to the outlying municipalities, including Manaquiri, Presidente Figueiredo and Rio Preto da Eva.

The humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported on February 22 that within a few weeks, Manaus had gone from full hospitals that “no longer had the capacity to offer medical care to all the people who needed it” to a situation that was still serious but no longer critical.

Archbishop Steiner thanked the Knights of Columbus for their donation, saying the second wave of the pandemic has “demanded a lot from our population.”

The archbishop said the local Church “has also stood out in its efforts to serve, care for and feed the population that lives on the streets and in poor communities.”

He added “a telephone line has been set up to listen to the faithful and bring them the Word of the Gospel.”

“Here in Manaus, we are not a Church that is waiting around, we are a Church that goes out, as Pope Francis asks us. We are a Church very close to the people, especially to the poor,” Steiner concluded.

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