Photo: Tiago Queiroz/ICRC

Covid-19: Brazil hits the mark of 500,000 lives lost and the ICRC alerts that frontline workers are exhausted

Besides the vulnerability of those who work in essential services, campaign calls attention to violence, which had no truce and impacts many communities.
News release 19 June 2021 Brazil

Brasília (ICRC) – Brazil hit the sad mark of 500,000 deaths this Saturday (19), according to the Ministry of Health. With that, the country becomes the second one to break the barrier of half a million victims. In 15 months of pandemic, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) calls attention to the prolonged pressure over essential public service workers who are responding directly to the pandemic.

"For 2021 in Brazil, we are concerned about who is on the frontline of response to the pandemic. They are human beings, not super heroes", says Simone Casabianca-Aeschlimann, head of ICRC delegation in Brazil and Southern Cone countries. "They are professionals who work non-stop, at risk of infection, under extreme emotional pressure, and in some cases having to deal with frequent risky situations due to armed violence."

In this scenario, the International Committee of the Red Cross launches a new phase of campaign Value the Essential, for the support and appreciation of those who work in the direct response to the pandemic. The action also seeks to highlight the human aspect and the stories of those behind the masks. Videos and photos are starting to be shared on the organization's social networks this weekend and can be followed by hashtag #ValorizeOEssencial.

Overall, 1,600 healthcare professionals died from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome caused by Covid-19 until the end of May 2021, according to data gathered by the Federal Board of Medicine (CFM) and the Federal Board of Nursing (Cofen). In all, 546,798 healthcare professionals tested positive for the disease, according to the Epidemiologic Bulletins of the Ministry of Health of 2020 and 2021. The most affected professions were nursing technicians and assistants (33.5%), followed by nurses (15.2%), physicians (11.0%), and community health agents (5.1%).

"If last year we faced the challenges and fears of a new disease that arrived, now with ongoing vaccination, we observe not only exhaustion due to working hours, but cases of stigmatization, harassment and attacks on these workers", says Lívia Schunk, technical manager for the ICRC's Acesso Mais Seguro (AMS) program. "The attack on healthcare, social assistance and education professionals is much more harmful than it seems. It affects the community as a whole by leaving the population less assisted."

Violence in the midst of the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic worsened the difficult situation of populations that are the focus of ICRC's action in Brazil: family members of missing people, people and communities affected by armed violence, essential public services workers, migrants, and people deprived of liberty. This phenomenon was observed in the Humanitarian Report 2020, a document in which the ICRC delegation reported on its action in the country in the first year of the pandemic.

In addition, violence data indicate that violence had no truce during the pandemic. In total, 43,892 violent deaths were recorded in 2020, according to the Violence Monitor. The dynamics of confrontations, disputes and their changes were reflected in the offer – or lack of – essential services, where invisible barriers limit people from accessing different services – a drama that impacted all these populations. As a result, communities already suffering from the consequences of armed violence in the cities had to face Covid-19 and the economic crisis as aggravating factors.

"Ensuring that all professionals working in essential services are safe and can do their work in order to ensure the continued care of people affected by the disease is crucial at this time", says Schunk. The AMS technical manager also says that this has been the focus of the program during the pandemic, which seeks, in partnership with authorities, to prevent and mitigate the impacts of armed violence on essential services.

Girliane da Cruz is coordinator of a Health Unit in Vila Velha (State of Espírito Santo) and AMS facilitator in her municipality. She explains how practical guidelines adapted to the unit where she works made a difference in violence scenarios: "At first, we felt a calming down in the shootings, but then they returned and then we really saw that we needed to continue the work of Acesso Mais Seguro, which is here to stay. Therefore, being able to continue the work in 2020 was a satisfaction, but it allows us to see our behaviors and gives us more security."

Launch of Value the Essential Campaign
Reference website: 
Hashtag to follow the conversation: #ValorizeOEssencial
ICRC networks, where exclusive videos will be published:
Twitter: @CICV_br
Facebook: /CICV
Instagram: @cicv_oficial
YouTube: /cicv_oficial

Further information and interview requests
Diogo Alcântara, ICRC Brasília, (61) 98248-7600,
Sandra Lefcovich, ICRC Brasília, (61) 98175-1599,
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