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

Facts About Poverty in BrazilThough major improvements have stimulated Brazil’s economy over the past few decades, the country still faces a major poverty deficit. While the country does have one of the top 10 economies in the world, poverty in Brazil is still a major issue. The percentage of the population that lives beneath the poverty line struggles to make it from one day to the next. Four components that influence poverty in Brazil are the pertinent numbers, the unemployment situation, the influence on housing and the current global lockdown’s impact.

The Numbers

With more than 200 million citizens, Brazil has the fifth largest population in the world. While the poverty rate is now impressively less than 10%, 16 million Brazilians still live unsustainable lives.

Many of the families living in poverty do not have access to education, clothing, clean water, food or fuel. Kim Lango, a humanitarian who has spent a number of years helping to relieve poverty in Brazil, told The Borgen Project in an interview that “We once drove a Pre-Med student home one evening only to discover his home only had three walls….” On their way to the house, Lango passed by dead and wounded people on the streets who were waiting for an ambulance that would only come if the family had sufficient funds.

According to a Getulio Vargas Foundation study, an alarming gap exists between the wealthy and poor, and it is increasing. Marcelo Silva de Sousa and Víctor Caivano state that Brazil ranks with the “most unequal nations in a broader region where the gap between rich and poor is notorious.” During the seven years of the study, the richest Brazilians increased their income by over 8%. However, the income of the poorest population decreased an entire 14%.

The gap shows Brazil’s drastic inequality. In fact, only 10% of Brazil’s citizens earn half of the income in the country.

Lango gave her perspective on some of the reasons for this gap. She first stated that “lack of access to adequate education[…] creates a vicious cycle.” Those living in unsafe and inadequate places often find themselves stuck there due to the rigor and expense of the education system. Lango also said that discrimination plays a significant role in this gap and that many consider poor people unsafe and ones they should not connect with.

While the poverty rates are startling, Lango offers hope: “the most beautiful acts of overcoming will always be from Brazilians helping their own people.”

The government has a welfare program devoted to alleviating poverty. The Family Grant, known as the Bolsa Família, offers a monthly allowance to families in poverty.


Another of the components that influence poverty in Brazil is unemployment. When a major recession hit between 2014 and 2016, the unemployment rate hit 13% and emerged as a major issue contributing to poverty in Brazil. While the unemployment rate had improved somewhat since then, it had yet to recover enough to significantly impact the poverty in Brazil.

Unfortunately, in 2019, Brazil’s unemployment increased to a 12.4% unemployment rate, leaving millions of Brazilians out of work and desperately searching for the means to make money. Still, the available jobs often have an informal and inconsistent nature.

According to Mark S. Langevin, Director of Brazil Works, Brazil has reached a “historic and dismal record” of citizens not contributing to the workforce. Langevin stated that the number is more than 65 million.


Because of extreme poverty, many Brazilians do not have access to proper shelter, or even shelter at all. In fact, according to Habitat for Humanity, more than 50 million people in Brazil do not have adequate housing. The country requires 6 to 8 million new houses to sufficiently shelter its people.

Habitat for Humanity is working to develop proper housing for those living in the slums. Due to the successful implementation of their programs, Habitat for Humanity is currently working on more than 1,500 houses in Pernambuco, one of Brazil’s states.

A report determined that the 2010 census revealed that more than 5% of Brazilians live in makeshift settlements called favelas. Brazilians often build favelas using materials that they scavenged. Moreover, these homes often do not have appropriate water access.

The government has been working since 1993 to improve these conditions. During that year, 20% of Brazil’s population lived in favelas, so the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro developed a program to help improve the housing and road access for those who lacked sufficiency in those areas. The program, the Favela-Bairro project, also funded social programs for children.

While some are making efforts to improve the conditions, the poor housing situation remains prevalent.

The Current Lockdown’s Impact

The last of the components that influence poverty in Brazil includes COVID-19’s impact on the country. With the current global lockdown due to Covid-19, poverty in Brazil could increase drastically. There are more than 30 million informal workers who have unprotected jobs that the lockdown now threatens.

The lockdown has come at an unfortunate moment due to social program cuts that came as a result of the recession in 2014. During that time, many workers became sporadically self-employed, which severely weakened the economy.

Humanitarian groups have had to scramble to increase food programs. One of these groups, a Catholic relief group called Caritas, has oriented its focus entirely to providing food.

While those already in poverty or unpredictable work situations are facing an uncertain future, the government has begun to respond to the issue. It adapted the emergency aid fund rules to improve workers’ lives during the shutdowns. The banks have more restrictions and there has been a loan suspension for school funds.

Though the poverty here is vicious, wonderful programs, both governmental and humanitarian, are stepping up to fight the deficit. Hopefully, continued aid and government efforts will eradicate poverty in Brazil in the future.

– Abigail Lawrence
Photo: Flickr