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Vulnerable Populations During Brazil’s COVID-19 Pandemic 

Brazil's COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted millions of individuals across the globe, leaving vulnerable populations with unequal access to resources. As of February 2023, Brazil has had 36 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. Brazil is a large country with various regions; however, some communities were more vulnerable than others during the pandemic. Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic left the country with a better understanding of how some populations ended up more vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Living in Brazil’s Poverty During the Pandemic

The Brazilian Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) reported that those who live in working-class neighborhoods or “favelas” are more likely to contract infectious and contagious diseases. Favelas are overcrowded and contain millions of inhabitants. That is one reason why residents are more apt to contract airborne diseases. Furthermore, favela residents lack access to health care and sanitation. It’s also why Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic hit residents in the most poverty-stricken favelas much harder than those in other neighborhoods.

AE: Brazil’s Financial COVID Response to Poverty-Stricken Families

As one response to COVID, Brazil’s federal government implemented Auxílio Emergency (Emergency Aid) (AE) to aid low-income families. When first launched, AE supported poverty-stricken families with a minimum of five $600 installments, and households led by single mothers received double that amount. Over time, the program lowered these benefits, this public relief aid received global recognition. In fact, Brazil ranked as having the fifth largest governmental response.

Violence Against Women

The World Bank reported increased risks of gender-based violence (GBV) within the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil. Calls to domestic violence helplines increased in Brazil. During the time of isolation and lockdown, femicides doubled. In 2020, Brazil had 1,350 recorded cases of femicide.  At the beginning of the pandemic, strict quarantine measures bolstered this increased violence. Later during the pandemic, job loss and financial instability contributed.

Combatting Violence Against Women

Luckily, Brazil already had services in place to combat violence against women. Signed into Brazilian law in 2006, the Maria da Penha Law provides women safety against domestic violence because any violence against a woman violates human rights. Forms of violence can include physical, psychological, sexual and patrimonial against women of any age. This law helps women find care and offers urgent protective measures. The law has assisted more than 3,364,000 since its initial signing in 2006.

Helplines and safe spaces further mitigate the threat of violent escalation. For example, one can report any situation of domestic violence to the Women’s Hotline (Central de Atendimento à Mulher).

Indigenous Populations and COVID-19

Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic also disproportionately affected indigenous communities. Brazil is home to  896,917 indigenous persons in 305 ethnic groups. Mortality among indigenous populations was 6.5 times greater than in the rest of the population of Brazil during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the reason for this is that about a third of indigenous villages have access to clean water and sanitation. Access to hospitals is also worse for indigenous Brazilian communities. Additionally, indigenous people in Brazil face stigma and discrimination even when they can access health care services.

To combat symptoms of COVID-19 during the beginning of the pandemic, some indigenous populations such as the Xavante community turned to traditional medicine. United Nations Human Rights Senior Indigenous Fellow from Brazil and member of the Xavante people, Ro’otsitsina Juruna, reported, “Many indigenous people did not want to take the so-called Western medicines, so instead they began to take and practice more traditional medicine, through roots, teas and ablutions. I believe this strengthened our culture.”

As the pandemic continued, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) worked to provide indigenous populations with accessible and accurate information about prevention and care. It advocated for state governments to educate indigenous communities about how to seek help in case of symptoms. It also pushed for information about COVID prevention and treatment to be written in as many indigenous languages as possible and allow communities information about the virus to indigenous peoples in as many indigenous languages and formats (oral, written, child friendly).

Reflection on Brazil’s COVID-19 Pandemic

Because Brazil’s government and national and international humanitarian organizations have intervened to help these vulnerable groups, they have mitigated the harm done even in the most vulnerable populations. Further, Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic response helped the country better understand the factors contributing to the vulnerabilities.

– Yv Maciel
Photo: Flickr