Black and poor, North-eastern Brazil, hit by the coronavirus

Noir et pauvre, le Nord-Est du Brésil secoué par le coronavirus

Rio de Janeiro | The North-East of Brazil, a huge area of arid land, poverty and droughts, cyclical, is hit by the coronavirus and the measures painful to stem the pandemic.

This region consisting of nine States is the second largest of Brazil for the number of deaths and contamination, behind the rich South-East, which is part of the Covid-19.

For the 7.7 million people who live on less than two dollars a day, the containment has suspended essential services, such as meals at school for children or deliveries of water to those who do not.

“In 26 years, I have never seen so many people live in fear or be hungry,” said Alcione Albanesi, founder of the charitable organization Amigos do Bem. “Everything stopped. But the hunger, it, continues,” she adds.

His organization distributes food, water and hygiene products to villages in this vast region parched called the Sertao, where many families remain difficult.

A lot of people do not have access to water and frequent washing of hands remains theoretical.

Those who fall ill often face a long journey on a cart with oxen up to the nearest city and then several hours of public transportation to a hospital.

And when they arrive, sometimes the hospital’s lack of the same linen for the beds, ” said Ms. Albanesi.

Migrants as vectors

The pandemic progresses quickly in the Northeast, since the state capitals (Salvador, Recife or Fortaleza), located on the coast, towards the interior of the land.

At the beginning of April, the region had 17.6% of the total cases of contamination of Brazil. Today, it is two times more (34.4 per cent).

The North-eastern States have recorded 140 000 cases and 7500 deaths on a national total of 25 000.

This is not a coincidence if the evolution has followed the South-East, where two major outbreaks of pandemic: Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Many migrant workers who had left the North-East for these areas, the rich have lost their jobs as a result of the containment measures enacted at the end of march.

The brazilian press has referred to the journeys of those, who, to go home, took bus providing connections underground on dirt roads, bypassing the containment.

Some of these migrant workers, generally employed in the informal economy, have reported the virus in them.

“Every day, buses, minibuses, and cars leave Sao Paulo. In control of these people when they return to the interior of the country? Person!”, said a driver at the daily Folha de S. Paulo.

Poverty and policy

For a long time, the north-east is marginalised.

With a population of 57 million inhabitants over 210 million in Brazil, it has the largest proportion of Blacks (74,5% against 54% nationally), and people living in extreme poverty.

This traditional stronghold of the left is the only one of the five major regions of Brazil, which has not voted overwhelmingly for the candidate of extreme right-wing Jair Bolsonaro the end of 2018.

When the virus that Bolsonaro persisted in calling it a “small flu” has arrived, the Nordeste has taken things in hand.

The governors have set up a commission of experts, led by one of the most famous scientists of the country, Miguel Nicolelis, a specialist in neuroscience.

“The North east has not received much financial support from the federal government (…) because of this political animosity,” explained Dr. Nicolelis to the AFP.

With the limited resources available, his commission has developed a strategy to slow the progression of the Covid-19, with the brigades of health emergency and a smartphone application to identify suspected cases, downloaded 200 000 times.

But this was akin to “being in a hurricane without a raincoat”.

Many area hospitals are on the verge of collapse. “It is a very intense battle”, told AFP Jailson Correia, the Health secretary of Recife, capital of the State of Pernambuco.

Mr. Correia has been able to open up seven field hospitals. But it was difficult to find staff: 471 health professionals are sick, many of which are contaminated.

“The stress level is very high with the epidemic progressing exponentially,” he says.

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