Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, and like many others, it has been severely affected by Covid-19. Currently, the country faces more than a million coronavirus cases and 50,000 deaths. Brazil is seen by many as a country with the warmest and kindest population in the world, where interpersonal contact and social interaction are a very strong and important part of the daily routine. The country of music, soccer, and carnival, where almost all the times the joy prevails, is now facing social-distancing enforcements or requirements. However, we will see that Brazil’s deep-rooted inequality has been causing the death of poor people, infected by the disease carried in by rich people.
In this article, I will dig deeper into the daily routine of the real Brazilian citizen, whose monthly income barely reaches the 1,200 BRL (350 EUR) and who cannot afford to stop going to work due to COVID-19 pandemic because otherwise there is no way to feed their families. The lowest-income social class in the country has more than 12 million people (according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics – IBGE) and I will investigate why it is more difficult to control the disease in the mostly dense populated neighborhoods. The goal of this article is to show how the inequality in Brazil contributes to the increase of cases in the less developed areas and to show how the start of this pandemic is not associated with the poorest portion of the population, which are nonetheless the most affected ones.
The imported virus is damaging the underprivileged
According to the São Paulo city hall, the mortality rate of the new coronavirus in the city is up to 10 times higher than average in neighborhoods with worse socio-economic conditions. In these less-developed areas, people do not get accurate information, the agglomeration and populational density are very high and the necessity to survive is what prevails. I contacted specialists of the NGO ‘Data Favela/Institute Locomotiva’ and according to their interviews and researches, “work is the main source of income for 71% of favela residents”. Besides “it is impossible to quarantine when you live in a slum where the refrigerator is empty, where there is a lack of water and five people live in a space of 20 square meters”, stated Renato Meirelles, the NGO’s representative.
Since I come from a very privileged family compared with the average Brazilian citizen, my mother and I decided somehow to help these families. We went to the streets in some less-developed areas to find out the reality of these people and provide them basic food baskets. On our first day of this journey, we decided to observe how were people living their lives, if the lockdown was being respected, and so on. Our first impression was shocking: bars were open, bakeries were fully functioning and half of the people were not using masks. On the second day, we decided to ask some residents the reason why the sales shops and bars were still open and why people were still leaving their houses and going to work. “I have to bring home the bacon”, said a 30 years old worker after I asked his thoughts on why people are not staying home in this time of crisis. Another concern was how these people are getting to work since law enforcement was asking them to avoid public transportations to avoid agglomerations. “I can’t afford to take an Uber to work, it would cost ten times more than getting the bus”, stated Fatima, who works as a house maid. After having experienced this, I started to realize that these people are heavily suffering the consequences of coronavirus, while their bosses are the ones staying home. In the poorest areas, up to 10 people live under the same roof, so what are the odds that they are following the social-distancing requirements from the authorities? It is a matter of survival.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the WHO had declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIO) only 5 times. A PHEIO is issued when an extraordinary health event constitutes a risk to other countries for the possibility of international spread of a disease. Interestingly, the previous pandemics have been associated with the underprivileged, as it was the case with Ebola in Africa and Zika Virus, originated in Brazil. This time, however, corona virus was carried in by travelers returning from their privileged vacations in Europe. So now, we are dealing with a different scenario, where this so-called “rich man’s disease” has already spread in the poorest areas of Brazil’s countryside and favelas, and the lower portion of the pyramid is paying the check for the country’s inequality.
After analyzing the situation, I was able to identify that the poor people are being affected mainly in two ways. First, by the risk of being infected by the virus and lacking the adequate means to seek treatment. After all, if a rich individual is infected, he or she gets the best medical service that money can buy. If a poor is infected, on the other hand, he or she must count on the public health system (which was already overwhelmed much prior to the pandemic). Secondly, underprivileged people lack sufficient resources, and are therefore forced to leave their home seeking to provide for their families.
Brazil is now seeing a new facet of the terrible wealth-gap that has haunted the country for centuries. This time, however, the negative impacts of such gross inequality are being reported everyday single day in newspapers, as the death toll continues rising. I hope this terrible and difficult times can show future leaders the importance of promoting income distribution and minimizing the wealth inequality, now that the country can more than ever (or at least more visibly than ever) see that it comes with a high price.
Autor: Renato Pazinato
*Dieser Beitrag ist im Rahmen des Kurses Krisenmanagement in der globalen Sars-Cov2 / Covid19 Krise entstanden.