SAO PAULO – Brasilandia, Sao Paulo’s worst-hit district by COVID-19, has shown that the pandemic has disproportionately hit Afro-Brazilian communities with black people being four times more likely to die from coronavirus.
Located in the far north of the most populous city in the Americas, Brasilandia is topping the number of COVID-19 deaths with over 200, with 30% of the total fatalities recorded in Sao Paulo, ground zero of the disease in Brazil.
The data has exposed the deep inequalities within Brazil, where poverty is much higher among black Brazilians, who make up a little over 50% of the population.
“The coronavirus only came to enhance a problem that already existed decades ago. Brasilandia always had problems in public health and always suffered from the absence of the State,” Association of Residents of Brasilandia President Claudio Rodrigues Melo, says.
Rodrigues says his neighborhood is made up of “a large number of black people and people who came from the northeast living in the favelas and poorer communities.”
Brasilandia is a good example of how historically black communities have been marginalized and pushed out to the peripheries where a void of governance has become the norm.
The neighborhood representative, who lost his mother to coronavirus in early May and whose father was admitted to a field hospital with COVID-19 almost a month ago, warned that the situation in the community is “critical.”
Residents of this slum of nearly 300,000 inhabitants, built on an old sugar plantation, depend exclusively on the crowded state-run hospitals and many are crammed into small homes they share with several others.
According to a study by the Health Operations and Intelligence Nucleus (NOIS) of PUC-Rio University, a black person without schooling is four times more likely to die of coronavirus in Brazil than a white individual with higher education, although the number of infected is higher among white communities.
The study also shows that the coronavirus mortality rate among white people is around 38%, while the death rate among black people is almost 55%.
For the researchers, the data proves that the spread of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Brazil “has also been influenced by socio-economic factors,” beyond the “contagion dynamics of an epidemic.”
“Mortality among black people is always higher than white people, even when analyzing patients of a similar age group or education,” coordinator of NOIS and one of the authors of the study Silvio Ham tells EFE.
“The mortality rate in Brazil is influenced by inequalities in access to treatment,” he adds.
Although Afro-Brazilians represent 56% of the population, 67% of unemployed people or informal workers and 75% of the poorest in Brazil are black.
The figures make it impossible to dissociate social inequalities from racial inequality, Black Money Black Empowerment Movement founder Nina Silva tells EFE.
“We always talk about social inequality instead of racial inequality, but we forget that racial inequality is decisive for all the others,” Silva says.
The coronavirus, which has left over 30,000 dead, “has only made all the greatest inequalities suffered by the black population more evident,” the activist adds.
According to Silva, black people were “the first to lose their jobs” and many have also been forced to keep their jobs as “security guards, domestic workers or porters” during the pandemic, increasing their risk of infection.
Many residents of Brazil’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods survive thanks to food donations.
In Brasilandia alone, the Residents’ Association has delivered more than 10,000 meals and almost 1,100 food baskets since late April, a figure that was much higher than expected and linked to rising unemployment due to the pandemic.
This is the case of the domestic worker Ana Maria da Silva, who lost her job after the entire family she works for became infected during a trip and now depends on the meals.
“Although everyone had recovered, my boss asked me to put my work on hold for a few months. And, suddenly, I was left with nothing,” she tells EFE.
Da Silva’s life also suffered a setback after her ex-sister-in-law and friend fell ill with COVID-19.
“She lived with more than four people and became infected. A few days later, all five were dead,” she laments.