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

A campaign to protect and respect essential workers aims to build recognition and support for all those who are working to keep us safe during the pandemic – workers who are, themselves, affected by COVID-19.

10 August 2020
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. Tiago QUEIROZ/ICRC

Brasilia (ICRC) – Not only does Brazil have the second-highest number of infections and deaths from COVID-19 in the world, surpassing 100,000 casualties, the country also has a high number of essential workers in basic services infected by the virus. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is launching a new campaign today to respect and protect those essential workers, an effort to prevent stigma while fostering support for those on the front line of the emergency.

"These professionals are not only saving lives, they are also ensuring essential services continue for everyone, whether it be health care, social services or education. They deserve our full support and solidarity," says Simone Casabianca-Aeschlimann, the ICRC's head of delegation for Brazil and the Southern Cone countries. "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."

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, 196 have officially died of COVID-19, and other cases are under investigation. 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.

Doctors are seen as the most trusted professionals in Brazil, with a 35 per cent public confidence rating, according to a poll by Brazil's Datafolha Institute published in July. The same survey highlights that, while 51 per cent of Brazilians believe that doctors' work receives sufficient recognition, the respondents 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. Dr. Carlos Moreira, from São Paulo, 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.

About the campaign:

The campaign has two core aspects. First, it provides practical recommendations for self-care and how to manage stress for professionals and service providers who are the ICRC's partners, particularly those working in areas affected by violence. 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).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ICRC has been advocating for the physical and mental well-being of essential workers, with a focus on the six state capitals implementing the Safer Access methodology. 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:
  • 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.
  • The latest ICRC footage can be access for free on the ICRC Video Newsroom platform.

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):