"United against dengue": the Red Cross and the residents of Rio join forces to prevent the disease

02-02-2009 Feature

The ICRC and the Brazilian Red Cross (BRC) mounted the campaign "United against dengue" in seven "socially vulnerable" districts of Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city in Brazil. As part of the campaign, more than 80 community workers, members of the health profession and BRC volunteers received training so that they could explain to the population how to avoid a dengue epidemic.

  © ICRC    
  The "United against dengue" campaign. Michel Minnig, Andrés Vera and Maria do Socorro Melo Brandão in Cidade de Deus.    
  The "United against dengue" campaign. Handing out information.    
  The "United against dengue" campaign. Favela children read up about dengue.    

The actress Miriam Vieira gave a captivating, lively performance in her disguise as a dengue-transmitting mosquito at the Sítio da Amizade centre in the favela Cidade de Deus (City of God). The entertainment was an especially good way of making residents aware of the care which must be taken to prevent the disease and avoid its spread. 

But that was not all; events to mark the end of the " United against dengue " campaign also included batucada , a play, children's games, visits to people's homes and the distribution of snacks to children. According to the locals, there had never been a party like it in the Sítio da Amizade .

The ICRC and Brazilian Red Cross, together with the local population, mounted the campaign, which ended on 31 January, in seven " socially vulnerable " districts, where a substantial incidence of armed violence goes hand in hand with a dearth of services. The participants met on 7 February to evaluate the campaign. The preliminary findings point to a high level of motivation and participation among residents, as well as great acceptance of the work done by the ICRC and BRC to assist communities.

According to the official data of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), more than one million people live in favelas in the city of Rio de Janeiro and the number of these deprived neighbourhoods is growing. The campaign against dengue was conducted in the Complexo do Ale mão, Complexo da Maré, Vigário Geral, Parada de Lucas, Cidade de Deus, Vila Vintém y Cantagalo.

" The armed violence in Rio de Janeiro is having rather worrying humanitarian consequences " says Michel Minnig, the ICRC representative for Brazil and the Southern Cone. He is of the opinion that, while the situation in Rio cannot be regarded as an armed conflict, " there is a significant number of killings and woundings, of police officers as well, which is of concern to us. "

Last December, during the first stage of the project, some 60 community workers, 10 members of the health profession and 10 BRC volunteers underwent training at the Red Cross headquarters in the centre of Rio.

Community leaders then planned field activities for every Saturday in January. They distributed informative material, gave talks, put on plays, visited shantytown dwellers, organized the creation of graffiti by groups of artists, carried out preventive measures, arranged capoeira sessions and ran other activities to heighten the population's awareness of the causes of the disease. The whole gamut of Carioca creativity was mobilized in order to forestall a dengue epidemic like that which occurred in 2008, when 106 deaths and 126,730 cases were recorded in Rio alone. 

On the last day of the project, Maria do Socorro Melo Brandão, from the association " Sementes da Vida " (Seeds of Life), was overjoyed. " It surpassed our expectations. The community was extremely receptive. We must continue to work with the Red Cross, " she said after making a speech in a square improvised with blue tarpaulin in the Cidade de Deus.

 New activities  

Training provided an opportunity for cooperation among the residents of various communities. Such cooperation is often impossible because of disputes between armed factions. It was also an opportunity for engaging in a dialogue on humanitarian issues with the city's police forces.

The ICRC was likewise able to find out at first hand what living conditions are like in these areas of Rio. In the words of Felipe Donoso, the head of the ICRC project in Rio de Janeiro, " The dengue prevention campaign has enabled us to build bridges and forge a close relationship with communities affected by armed violence. "  He added that the ICRC was planning further action in 2009 to continue to help the most vulnerable sections of the population to meet the challenges of urban violence. 

The ICRC and the BRC ran their first trial project in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in the second half of 2008, when they gave first-aid training to shantytown dwellers.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Brazilian Red Cross are members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.



What is dengue fever?
  • Dengue fever is an infectious viral disease transmitted by the female Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which has to feed on blood in order that her eggs can develop. 
  • When a mosquito stings a persons infected with the dengue virus, it in turn becomes infected and passes on the virus to all persons whom it then stings.
  • The female lays her eggs in receptacles, especially man-made containers, holding dirty, stagnant water and standing in shady places. The eggs hatch and develop into winged adults which transmit the disease.