Coronavirus: in the favelas of Brazil, one counts only on itself

Coronavirus: dans les favelas du Brésil, on ne compte que sur soi

Distribution of food, disinfection of streets, mask making, explanations on the severity of the disease: in view of the shortcomings of the State, of the inhabitants of brazilian favelas are rolling up their sleeves to try to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

“We need to have our own public policies and to create alternatives, because the government is absent,” said the AFP Gilson Rodrigues, a leader of Paraisopolis, the second biggest slum of Sao Paulo.

With its winding streets, its bicoques dangling red brick, and its tangles of electric cables, Paraisopolis is home to more than 100 000 inhabitants, on the edge of Morumbi, one of the most affluent neighborhoods of the economic capital of Brazil.

For many people, the COVID-19 is “a disease of the affluent, of those who travel abroad,” said Mr. Rodrigues. This is why “it is very difficult to keep people at home,” laments there.

Nobody, or almost, wearing of mask to Paraisopolis, the circulation is permanent and the many shops, even non-essential, are open.

“You see on tv that people are dying but I am not afraid “, said Viviane de Lima, 30, who lives with her husband, her mother-in-law and six of his seven daughters in a two-room apartment.

His mother-in-law 63 years of age occupies a room, the three teenage girls another, and the couple sleeps in the living room with the three youngest.

Stay at home and maintain a social distance in these conditions is a logistical challenge and economic. “My husband would like to stay home but it must work “, said Viviane.

The family of Lima in luck: in addition to the salary that the husband retains as a mechanic, she has the hydroalcoholic gel and an access to the water, “a luxury” for many of his neighbours, highlights Gilson Rodrigues.

In Paraisopolis, where many inhabitants work in the informal economy or as domestic staff, unemployment soared.


To try to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic, a local association, the Union of the neighbors of Paraisopolis, centralises donations from individuals and a few businesses. It has also launched a campaign of crowdfunding on the internet.

Its project includes the distribution of income for the unemployed, the delivery of food baskets and daily meals, the purchasing of protective equipment and the hiring of personnel, ambulance, and medical.

A string of production cooking over 2000 meals per day in a building that houses normally an activity centre for elderly people. Another manufactures thousands of masks. Next, three ambulances waiting to take calls. Upstairs, a first-aid training is provided.

Paraisopolis, which is a 20-minute drive from the intensive care unit at the nearest and at least nine suspicious deaths due to the COVID-19, is preparing for “the worst,” says Gilson Rodrigues.

In Rio de Janeiro, similar initiatives have seen the light of day in the favela Santa Marta -4000 inhabitants— located in the south zone, the richest of the city, where the inhabitants also take their destiny in hand.

“The coronavirus is a growing problem for the favela. Here we are dying of stray bullets and health problems, ” says Thiago Firmino, a tourist guide, 39-year-old who volunteered to disinfect the streets of his neighborhood.

Dressed in a combination of white, yellow gloves, he wears a gas mask and walks the streets with a sprayer.

“The favela has to fight, because if it waits for the government, it will never “, wails the young man who, with his brother, raises funds for Santa Marta.

About 50 000 people have been infected by the coronavirus in Brazil and more than 3,300 have died. The States of Sao Paulo and Rio are the most affected.

Doctors and experts fear an explosion of the disease in the most vulnerable neighbourhoods does not waver on the public health system, as is already the case in some hospitals of São Paulo and other cities.

“The coronavirus shows the reality of the favelas of Brazil, their abandonment by the State,” says Gilson Rodrigues.

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