Brazil: the favelas of Rio are preparing for the worst

Brésil: les favelas de Rio se préparent au pire

RIO DE JANEIRO | A poor people piled up in houses that are often substandard, health services, precarious: the favelas of Rio de Janeiro are in a state of alert at the time where the spread of the new coronavirus speeds up in Brazil.

“The irony is that this disease was brought to Brazil by plane, by the rich, but it is among the poor that she is going to explode,” said Paulo Buss, director of the centre for international relations of Fiocruz, centre for public health research reference.

The confirmation on Saturday of the first case of the COVID-19 in the City of God, favela iconic that inspired the movie of the same name, has sounded the alarm.

Nearly a quarter of the inhabitants of Rio, or 1.5 million people, live in favelas, which are installed for the most part into the hillside, often overlooking uptown.

This is the case of the favela Tabajaras, on the heights of Copacabana, the neighborhood most tourist areas of the city, but also one which brings together the most elderly.

“Here, the people were very scared” of contamination that would come from below, ” explains Vania Ribeiro, the vice-president of the association of local community. “The nearest health clinic, it is the same one who welcomes the elderly, Copacabana beach, and tourists from around the world”.

“Social vulnerability”

Here, the instructions of “social distancing” and “gestures barrier” are difficult to apply.

“We are told that it is necessary to wash the hands without stopping, but how to do it when running water is regularly cut? We are not going to wash his hands of the mineral water all the same!”, adds Vania Ribeiro.

The mayor of Rio has provided the AFP have “intensified prevention campaigns in the favelas”.

The municipality recommends, in particular, the isolation in a separate room of any person suspected of having been infected.

“If the home does not consists of only a single room, infected persons must stay at least one metre distance from other members of the family,” recommends the city council.

“Most of the houses in the favelas have two or three parts, with five to eight people. How can we isolate an infected person in these conditions?”, questions Paulo Buss.

The lack of hygiene in some homes is also a problem.

“In the favela, most of the houses have few windows, which prevents a good circulation of air, the entrance of the light of the day and promotes the spread of respiratory diseases,” says Patricia Canto, pulmonologist from the National School of public Health of Rio.

Tuberculosis continues to wreak havoc in the favelas, with infection rates sometimes ten times higher than the national average.

“For the coronavirus, it is said that it is necessary to protect the most vulnerable people in speaking of the elderly, but we must not forget the case of social vulnerability,” says Patricia Canto.

Informal economy

In the favelas, many people depend on the informal economy and the containment risk of the withdrawal of any means of subsistence.

In Rio, there is not yet total containment, such as in France or in Argentina.

But the schools and most shops were closed, as well as beaches and other tourist areas, where many street vendors come from the poorest neighborhoods to sell their products.

“The people who do not have formal employment should continue to go out to work because they do not have the choice. Or they die of hunger, or they may die by catching the coronavirus,” said Joelma Sousa, of the NGO Redes da Maré, located in a set of favelas near the international airport.

But she worried about the precariousness of health services. “The dispensaries are lacking equipment and staff. These days, they have closed 15 p.m., three hours earlier than planned, because there was more of a doctor”, she says.

In Tabajaras, Vania Ribeiro must also solve problems related to the topography is very particular of his favela.

“Here, the most practical way to ascend to the heights, it is the moto-taxi. We will ask the police to do more to make mandatory the wearing of a helmet for the passenger, otherwise the same helmet will go head in head”.

One of the many puzzles daily to the favelas of Rio in full pandemic


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