Note from BW of Brazil: When news reports first began divulging information about the so-called coronavirus and the potential for human disaster it could be become, activists in Brazil knew that, like any potential crisis, it would probably affect the poor population worse than the overall population. And in Brazil, poor communities are inhabited by mostly by black and brown people (68%), in other words, non-white.
Just for understanding, a favela can be defined as a low-income slum regionsfound throughout Brazil in periphery regions which are sort of makeshift type homes that often end up being used as permanent housing. The areas are in many ways ignored by governments and many are infamous for the power that gangs and drug traffickers weld, even when the vast majority of residents aren’t part of these lifestyles.
According to a 2011 IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) report, about 6% of Brazilians, or about 12 million people live in favelas. These regions often lack basic necessities of middle-class neighbrohoods, such as running water, sanitation and electricity. But these numbers have improved over the years. Today, 67% of favelas have sanitation, 88% have running water, 95% have garbage collection and more than 99% have eletricity.
The status of these low-income, mostly non-white residents also subjects the population to state-sanctioned violence and policing. It is very common to hear of favelados (favela residents) being shot and subsequently dying due to police actions, stray bullets and “accidental” shootingsin the what the government labels a “war on drugs”. The “shoot first, ask questions later” tactics of Military Police units have victimized thousands of favelados as police approach these regions as if every inhabitant is a potential criminal. There is a long list of police invasions that have led to the death of men, women, teens and increasingly, children.
One recent controversy involved police actions in the Paraisópolis favela in São Paulo. On December 1 of last year, police actions that included chemical ammunition, tear gas, rubber bullets, rifle butts, punches, and kicks led to the death of nine young people and another seven injured during a baile funk (funk dance) in the neighborhood.
No sooner than the neighborhood had been able to move on from this tragedy, today, it must deal with a completely different threat: the so-called coronavirus. Since the news of Covid-19 began making the news over a month ago, community, as well as nationally known activists and leaders have been sounding the alarm to bring attention to the devastation that could result from this latest health threat if the proper measures aren’t taken.
With nearly 70% of people in this favela working in some sort of service area (cleaning, doormen, babysitting, domestics), they could represent the most at risk group. What’s worse is that, with a President such as Jair Bolsonaro showing himself not capable or willing to take the pandemic seriously, the situation in favelas such as Paraisópolis could become a major problem. Community leader Gilson Rodrigues sees the gravity of the scenario. For Rodrigues, most cases of Covid-19 will probably happen in the favelas.
“…How is an elderly person going to enter a situation of isolation in a house with ten people and two rooms? This isolation is an isolation for ‘gringo ver’, for rich people. The poor have no condition to do it. We’re going to have a lot of losses in the favelas, unfortunately,” warns Rodrigues, echoing the opinions of favela leaders around the country.
For Rodrigues, the objective is to minimize the effects of the virus in the best possible manner to set an example for how other favelas across Brazil should organize themselves in the face of the crisis:
“We need everyone’s help to organize ourselves so that the community is saved from this crisis. We are creating a network of solidarity to take care of each other”, says Rodrigues.
The story below perfectly exemplifies the concerns and measures being taken.
Coronavirus advances fast in Paraisópolis, with 70 cases between suspects and confirmed
By Yan Boechat
The new coronavirus is spreading rapidly through the Paraisópolis Favela, the neighborhood with the highest population density in the country – where 45,000 people are squeezed together per square kilometer, according to IBGE data. At this time, more than 60 people have already presented symptoms typica of Covid-19 and were referred to hospitals in the region. All are still waiting for the results of the tests. In the favela, at least eight people have been confirmed with the new virus and four deaths are being considered suspected of having been caused by the new coronavirus, according to the favela residents’ association.
“The virus is circulating freely in Paraisópolis, we have been treating more and more cases of people with the symptoms of the disease and who need to be taken to hospitals for serious respiratory problems”, says cardiologist Luiz Carlos Barbosa, who works in an improvised medical base in the heart of the favela. “We will see a considerable increase in cases in the coming weeks, people are simply not respecting the quarantine here,” he say. Barbosa was hired by the residents’ association to provide emergency care during the Covid-19 crisis.
He says he is concerned not only with the accumulation of people on the streets, but mainly with the fact that most families live in small homes, often with several people sharing the same rooms. “The situation here is extremely worrying because there are no basic hygiene conditions, there’s a lack of water, there’s a lack of soap, there are no windows in the houses”, says the doctor, who, even with more than two decades of profession, says he is astonished with what he has found in Paraisópolis. “It will be difficult.”
Roberto Braga de Souza, 41, was diagnosed with Covid-19 on the 28th. “I started to feel sick with a headache first, then it gave me pain in my legs and then came the shortness of breath”, he says. He says he was saved by the emergency medical team that has been working in the favela since the crisis began. “I thought I was going to die, I was lucky to be able to ask for help and they came quickly to give me oxygen, it was close”. Rogério has been at home since then, he guarantees that he is complying with medical recommendations with military discipline. Or almost.
“Today was the first day that I left, there was no way, I had to go to the ATM to get money, I needed my fingerprint”, he says. On Saturday afternoon, the ATMs in Paraisópolis were extremely busy, with long lines between residents. Rogério passed one of these machines, and also had to wait in line. “But I was wearing a mask,” he says. A clerk at a pharmacy in Capão Redondo, he is sure that he was contaminated while working. “Friend, there is no way to stop this virus, it’s there in Capão, it’s here, everything is out there,” he says.
The Association of Residents of Paraisópolis is preparing for a major crisis in the community. Gilson Rodrigues, president of the organization, says that until last week there was some kind of collective respect for the recommendations that people stay at home. “But since President Jair Bolsonaro went on TV to say it was just a cold, that people should go back to normal, the favela has almost become what it used to be,” he says. “It was impressive the impact his comments had here, many people decided to go back to the street, reopen their businesses.
On the Saturday afternoon, Yahoo Brasil traveled several streets of Paraisópolis. In almost all of them, sale and purchase of non-essential services were functioning normally, such as clothing stores, technology articles and hairdressing salons. In the streets, intense movement of people walking, by car or by motorcycle. In some bars, residents had fun listening to pagode, drinking beer and barbecuing as on a normal Saturday. “It’s like this, young man, nobody’s really respecting it,” said one resident who didn’t want to identify herself, and who walked with her daughter on one of the busiest streets in the favela.
Expecting an explosion of cases in the coming weeks, the Association of Residents of Paraisópolis is starting the installation of a kind of temporary hospital in two schools of the community. The objective is to remove people who are contaminated from their homes and have them respect the quarantine in a monitored location. In the next few days, 500 beds will be installed in these schools, which will also have a kitchen, infirmary and common areas so that those people who tested positive for Covid-19 and who do not present serious symptoms can stay until they are no longer vectors of virus transmission. “In addition, we are distributing more than 1,000 quentinhas (carry out meals) per day and baskets to try to reduce the impacts of the economic crisis that is already hitting a large part of the community,” Gilson says. “With our characteristics, it will be difficult to isolate people,” he says.
Marcos Nilder, a resident of Paraisópolis suspected of being contaminated by the new coronavirus, has adopted a radical strategy to try to reduce the risks of contamination in his home. For 15 days he isolated himself on the roof of his house, where he set up an improvised bed. He slept there every night when it didn’t rain until he completed 15 days of quarantine.
Source: Yahoo with information from UOL and G1