Sell my house? The COVID debts of Latin Americans

Sandra Contreras is wiping away tears outside a hospital in Lima, Peru.

It's not just because her mother is inside, deeply sick with COVID. It's because to pay for the treatment she's become so desperate that she may need to sell her own house.

And she's not the only one. Across Latin America, where healthcare systems and social safety nets are thin, many people are being forced to put up the cost of treatment of out of their own pocket - at astronomical cost.

"I've pawned all my things. I've been left without work (...) I told my siblings, 'What do I care if we have to sell the house to save my mother? We're going to do it. That's my mother's house that she gave us."

There are others literally camping outside the hospital such as Yoselin Marticorena, who says she doesn't have any money to her name any more, and that the hospital is going to disconnect her father from life a ventilator. She doesn't know what to do.

The United Nations estimates that 22 million people in Latin America are being pushed into poverty because of the pandemic.

In Paraguay, for example, where the healthcare system has effectively collapsed, sparking protests, only about one in five people have social security or healthcare coverage through their employers, and only about 7% pay for private care.

The country does have free state-run healthcare but it's very limited.

In Brazil, we met Cintia Melo, who is paying about $3,500 a month to care for her 87-year-old mother at home, including a ventilator and visits from health workers.

"There were absolutely no hospital beds (...) With the help of family members, nephews, children. We also had the help of friends, so it was a joint effort. There were a lot of people who also offered to help, who gave us oxygen. That was all very important for her recovery, to have mother back."

Melo's mother is recovering but the costs haven't finished yet.

The U.N. believes about half of the people living in Latin America have received some form of monetary help from their governments, to get through the crisis.