Victims of violence flood Rio's hospitalsBMJ 1994; 309 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.309.6966.1394 (Published 26 November 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:1394
A 13 year old schoolgirl has become the 40th child with bullet wounds to be treated at Rio de Janeiro's Souza Aguiar hospital since September, and the fourth to die. The girl had been hit in the head by a stray bullet during a police chase of a stolen car. Doctors in Rio say that they are now treating so many victims of gunshot wounds it is as if there were an undeclared civil war.
A total of 1500 people were treated for bullet wounds in the first six months of this year at Rio de Janeiro's three municipal hospitals, Souza Aguiar, Salgao Filho, and Miguel Couto. Doctors say that this is a huge increase on previous years. Speaking at a recent congress on hospital emergency services in Rio, police doctor Abouch Krimchantowski said that this was comparable to figures for the Bosnian war. “The difference is that there is no civil war in Brazil.”
The violence is put down to the growing activities of drug gangs, who have taken control of many of Rio's 670 shanty towns, and to the frequent shootouts between gangs and the police.
According to data from the Rio mortuary, 20 people die every day in the city as a result of armed robberies, shootouts, and gang violence.
Dr Krimchantowski said that doctors in public hospitals needed to be taught the difference between wounds caused by different weapons. Rio criminals are now using more sophisticated weapons, like the American AR-15 rifle and hand grenades. Wounds from the new high velocity weapons are much more severe than those caused by the .38 revolvers still used by the police. Staff at Rio's public hospitals also say that they are having to work in overcrowded, understaffed casualty departments.
In 1989 the Salgado Filho hospital treated 72600 patients in casualty; in the first nine months of this year it treated 132500. Souza Aguiar treats between 900 and 1200 a day in its emergency wards, and sometimes the corridors are so crowded with stretchers it is difficult to move around.