COVID-19 does not affect everyone equally, but has the Brazilian government learned that yet?

(Credit: Wikimedia)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Cecilia Antonieta Monteiro Araujo, 22 years-old, a second-year medical student at the Federal University of Alagoas and affiliated to IFMSA Brazil-UFAL since 2019. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Despite being brought to Brazil by the wealthiest classes, as soon as COVID-19 began to spread in communities, the poorest suffered the most, among them, the blacks who are majority, not only in the Brazilian population, but also in social classes with less income. Racism has played a significant role since the beginning of Brazilian history, the remnants of slavery and the lack of guaranteed rights or implementation of measures for social inclusion after its end resulted in social marginalization, formation of favelas and informal work.

The persistent prejudice translated into worse social and health indicators, making them more vulnerable; blacks have precarious access to health, are the majority in less paid workers, rates of domestic agglomeration, poor housing and in prevalence of chronic non-communicable diseases. In addition, they are unable to follow recommendations to avoid contamination: work cannot be done remotely, they often rely on too crowded public transportation, and some do not have access to clean water. These determinants contribute to a high number of COVID-19 cases, greater severity and worse outcomes, evidenced by the comparison of deaths between whites and blacks. According to the bulletin of epidemiological week 8 of 2021, published by the Ministry of Health, the number of cases of SARS by COVID-19 in whites was 52,657 and 42,729 in blacks and the mortality rate was 31.29% (13,372) in blacks compared to 24.69% (13,002) in whites, corroborating the fact that blacks have worse outcomes and going against the statement that the disease does not choose color or social class. Discrepancies like this have existed since the first wave of the disease, yet no direct measures have been taken by the government to alleviate the situation.

Emergency financial aid, implemented at the beginning of the pandemic, had its value reduced, whilst essentials such as food and cooking gas keep getting more expensive, causing poor and black people to leave their homes in search of work, placing themselves at risk, so that they can feed their families, while the more privileged have the option of remaining isolated in their homes, without worrying about overcrowded public transport or having no money to feed themselves and pay the bills. Vaccination has become another sign of inequality: among priority groups, whites predominate in elite professions such as medicine, and local vaccination plans often exclude work classes in which blacks predominate, such as professionals who clean hospitals and are also severely exposed to the virus. This disparity is also evidenced in other groups, including the elderly, in which for each black, two whites were vaccinated.

Despite the data showing, in the black population, greater vulnerability and worse outcomes in COVID-19 cases, the Brazilian government did not implement the lessons learned from these disparities, not improving access to health, guaranteeing income, or focusing on the most vulnerable within the vaccination priority groups. Or worse, the government may not have learned any lessons, choosing to ignore the data stratified by race/color and continuing with the necropolitics that considers black lives to be disposable.

References

BRASIL, Ministério da Saúde. Secretaria de Vigilância em Saúde. Boletim Epidemiológico Coronavírus N52. Available from: https://www.gov.br/saude/pt-br/media/pdf/2021/marco/05/boletim_epidemiologico_covid_52_final2.pdf. Access on 20 de Apr. 2021.

IBGE. Desigualdades sociais por cor ou raça no Brasil. https://biblioteca.ibge.gov.br/visualizacao/livros/liv101681_informativo.pdf. Access on 20 Apr. 2021.

MUNIZ, Bianca; FONSECA, Bruno; FERNANDES, Larissa; PINA, Rute. Brasil registra duas vezes mais pessoas brancas vacinadas que negras. Agência Pública, São Paulo, 15 mar. 2021. Available from: https://apublica.org/2021/03/brasil-registra-duas-vezes-mais-pessoas-brancas-vacinadas-que-negras/. Access on 20 de Apr. 2021.

About the author

Cecilia Antonieta Monteiro Araujo, 22 years-old, is a second-year medical student at the Federal University of Alagoas and affiliated to IFMSA Brazil-UFAL since 2019. She is a member of the research group “Comprehensive health care, life cycles, gender and vulnerable populations” and strongly believes that equity in healthcare access and unbiased treatment are the answers to providing a better quality of life, reducing disparities in populations.

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