Armchair Epidemiologist

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Last Thursday I went out reporting with a videographer who had read that many of the flu cases had come from the Gustavo Madero neighborhood in the northern part of Mexico City.  In addition to being home to the Basilica de Guadelupe, the most important Catholic site in the Western Hemisphere, the neighborhood is also home to several ciudades perdidas or squatter settlements where entire extended families set up houses made of scrap material.

We talked to some of the residents of the ciudades perdidas, many of whom rely on the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the nearby shrine for their livelihood. Without pilgrims to buy trinkets or candy, many residents are left with barely enough money to buy food, let alone extra liters of purified water. With a water supply that only runs from 6 am to 3 pm, this makes the simple-yet-effective act of hand washing a challenge.

As we returned to our car, a woman named Chayo approached us and asked if we could please bring her some vaccines for her 11 grandchildren. We told her that since this is a new strain of virus, the new vaccines wouldn’t be ready for some time and that her energy would be better spent procuring supplies like face masks and soap.

The public health issues of water conservation and overpopulation are not unique to Mexico City. Virtually all of the world’s mega cities face similar challenges. The outbreak of the H1N1 virus should serve as a reminder that, as world citizens, these are issues we must continue to address.

Chayo and her extended family aren’t the only ones affected by H1N1. With the Basilica closed to worshipers, the local priests adapted by holding hourly outdoor masses. Here is a video of a priest explaining the new procedure for the rite of communion.

“We will not be giving communion in the mouth. You’ll have to extend your left hand to recieve it, put it in your right hand and then into your mouth.”

The outdoor mass is only one of the ways Chilangos have so far adapted to their new circumstances. As I write this, cleaning crews are scouring the nooks and crannies of DF’s underground. It will be interesting to see what other new measures will be taken in the coming weeks and months.

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