Brazil: Essential workers face high risks in fight against COVID-19

Team of health professionals drives a stretcher through the corridors of the field Hospital of Anhembi in São Paulo. Photo: Tiago Queiroz/ICRC

Brasilia (ICRC) – Not only does Brazil have the second highest number of infections and deaths from COVID-19 in the world, with more than 100,000 deaths, it also has one of the highest number of essential workers in the public sector affected by the virus. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is now launching a new campaign to “respect and protect” those essential workers, which aims to prevent stigma while fostering respect and support for those working on the front line of the emergency.

“We must recognize and value the work of every single person who is responding to this pandemic, so that communities have a chance to survive this health crisis,” says Simone Casabianca-Aeschlimann, the ICRC’s head of delegation for Brazil and the Southern Cone countries. “These professionals are not only saving lives, they are also ensuring essential services continue for us all, whether it be health care, social services or education. They deserve our full support and solidarity.”

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, essential workers have been exposed to a higher risk of infection from the virus while carrying out their day-to-day work. Data from the health ministry on COVID-19, published in a bulletin on 6 August, shows that 232,992 health professionals have been diagnosed with the virus. Of these, 194 have died. However, the figure could be even higher. According to the Federal Council of Nursing (Cofen), the number of confirmed cases among nursing professionals alone stands at 32,279 and the number of deaths among nursing staff is 334.

Karim Araújo has 22 years’ experience in respiratory physiotherapy on the front line in São Paulo. He believes that health-care professionals should be more highly valued. A report by Datafolha published in July shows that, in 2020, doctors became the most trusted professionals in Brazil, with a 35 per cent public confidence rating. The same report shows that, while 51 per cent of Brazilians believe that doctors’ work receives sufficient recognition, the people interviewed consider doctors’ working conditions to be merely satisfactory, poor or even dire.

Although many communities have shown their gratitude to health-care professionals, in others, there are worrying accounts of harassment and violence against those who are involved in the complex task of tackling the pandemic. Doctor Carlos Moreira says that while he feels respected for his work in a field hospital, prejudice also exists. “Some people, including our relatives, know that my wife and I are doctors and they have distanced themselves from us,” he says.

“With this pandemic, we are all learning to value who and what keeps us safe: the essential public services and the professionals working round the clock to help people fighting for their lives. Valuing what matters has always been a part of our history, but it is also a part of our daily lives,” explains Livia Schunk, a technical manager for the ICRC’s Safer Access to Essential Public Services programme.

Dual aspect

The campaign has two core aspects. The first is aimed at professionals and service providers who are the ICRC’s partners, particularly those working in areas affected by violence. It provides practical recommendations for self-care and how to manage stress. The second aspect focuses on the general public and aims to build empathy with professionals, promoting support for essential workers and teams through their personal stories. Find out more on the official campaign website (in Portuguese).

Valuing professionals in practical terms

The ICRC has long been highlighting the importance of providing practical support and protection for essential public services in the areas of Brazil blighted by armed violence. The ICRC has always advocated that violence does not create just one victim: the person injured or killed during gunfire. When violence forces a hospital to close its doors and stop treating patients or a school has to suspend classes, the victims are also the patients and the children who suffer the direct consequences of violence within a community. The ICRC has, as a result, adapted its Safer Access to Essential Public Services methodology.

Since its implementation, the Safer Access methodology has helped around 4.5 million people in Brazil and trained 28,000 professionals, working in 1,300 service provider units across six municipalities, namely, Duque de Caxias (Rio de Janeiro), Florianópolis (Santa Catarina), Fortaleza (Ceará), Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul), Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro) and Vila Velha (Espírito Santo). These are all practical examples of how essential services can be valued. (Find out more about the Safer Access methodology).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ICRC has been advocating the physical and mental well-being of essential workers, with a focus on the six state capitals implementing the Safer Access methodology. Essential workers in the public sector are also receiving support and protection against COVID-19 through donations. The ICRC is providing personal protective equipment and disinfectant gel to the cities in the Safer Access partnership.

Notes for editors:

• Graphics, photos and videos for social media use, as well as information, publications and key messages, are all available on the official campaign website:
· The campaign statement is also available (in Portuguese).
· A list of videos with the personal stories of essential workers featured in the campaign is available on Vimeo. If you need images without graphics for media use, please contact us.
· An exclusive campaign photo gallery about essential services and the professionals who provide them is also available. Use of the images is free, but please ensure you correctly credit each image used.

For more information and to request an interview:
Diogo Alcântara, ICRC, Brasilia, +55 (61) 98248 7600, Sandra Lefcovich, ICRC, Brasilia, +55 (61) 98175 1599, WhatsApp (sign up to receive notifications):

Source : Icrc