The ICRC handed over donations to help communities vulnerable to COCID-19 in Fortaleza. Photo: C.Almeida/CICV

COVID-19: ICRC activities in Brazil and the Southern Cone in the face of the pandemic

Humanitarian work cannot be put on hold. That is why the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Delegation for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay has adopted self-protection measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, while still taking all possible measures to support the most vulnerable populations. In this spirit, many of its activities have been adapted and new activities are being implemented. The ICRC works in cooperation with the authorities, the partners of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, organizations and the communities of the five countries. This is a summary of our current activities:
Article 02 April 2020 Brazil

Regional Activities:

Encouraging dialogue and donations for penitentiary systems

The ICRC has fostered dialogue among the penitentiary system authorities of the five countries regarding the challenges faced when fighting the pandemic in detention centres. It is not easy to stop the spread of contagious diseases once they find their way into a penitentiary centre. Also, several donations have been made to the penitentiary systems of the five countries, including sewing machines, cleaning machines and supplies to produce protective equipment. We have also donated materials for the production of 44,000 masks to the Secretaria da Administração Penitenciária (Penitentiary System Authority, SAP) of the state of Ceará, in Brazil. In addition, we have made a comparative analysis on the protocols currently in place to encourage a dialogue for the potential creation of additional protocols by the penitentiary authorities themselves to improve the systems' COVID-19 response.

Recommendations for the management of the dead

To help guarantee protection, dignity and respect in the management of the deceased from COVID-19, we have shared our recommendations with authorities of the five countries and we have also shared technical guidelines with health specialists, medical examiners and public officers working to address the pandemic.

Support for the Red Cross National Societies

On a regional level, teams of volunteers from the Argentine, Brazilian, Chilean, Paraguayan and Uruguayan Red Cross Societies are working hard every day to rise to this major humanitarian challenge. These initiatives have the support of the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). For instance, the Argentine Red Cross is supporting the public health system, providing 50,000 people with remote psychosocial support and helping restore links among people who are apart. The Brazilian Red Cross is helping clean and disinfect public areas and is supporting vaccination campaigns. The Chilean Red Cross is supporting local governments with human resources and materials for vaccination campaigns. The Paraguayan Red Cross is supporting the distribution of food in schools in vulnerable areas and assisting the government by providing healthcare and infrastructure for quarantined people. And, lastly, the Uruguayan Red Cross is providing people with remote assistance, distributing sanitizing kits and information resources, promoting awareness campaigns and offering free online training courses on first aid and the coronavirus.

Recommendations for law enforcement and the armed forces

The ICRC has shared with the authorities of the five countries a document on practical recommendations for law enforcement in the context of COVID-19 based on international human rights rules on the use of force amidst a disaster.

The document includes recommendations as to the measures that must be taken to ensure public order, while guaranteeing individual and collective protection. It also highlights the importance of understanding the crisis as a health issue – and not as a criminality issue – which can lead to stress and situations never before experienced by the communities served and protected by the security forces.

Recommendations have also been submitted to the military leaders of the five countries regarding health protection and the use of force in law and order operations which require the participation of the armed forces.

Connectivity services for migrants

The Restoring Family Links (RFL) programme has been adapted by the Red Cross Societies to ensure its continuity during the pandemic. This programme gives migrants the chance to communicate with their loved ones across all the countries in the region. In Brazil, the Red Cross provides migrants with access to phone calls, free internet connection and battery chargers in Pacaraima and Boa Vista in the state of Roraima, which borders Venezuela, and in Manaus in the state of Amazonas.

Activities in Brazil:

Respect and support for essential workers

There have been several initiatives to promote respect and enhance the mental and physical care provided to healthcare, social care and education professionals, especially in the six Brazilian state capital cities working together to implement ICRC's "Safer Access" methodology. Supporting workers in essential public services to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also includes donations.

Coronavirus homenagem profissionais de saúde

Supporting the families of missing persons

We are still supporting the families of missing persons, who are already suffering the uncertainty of not knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones.

Dona Antonieta França da Costa, de 81 anos, busca por notícias do filho desaparecido desde 2013. M.Cruppe/CICV

Donations to hospitals and shelters in the North of Brazil

The ICRC has donated personal protective equipment and hygiene and cleaning products to the Manaus (AM) Transit Shelter and to the Hospital de Campanha da Área de Proteção e Cuidados (Protection and Care Field Hospital - APC), in Boa Vista (RR), in an effort to assist vulnerable communities battling COVID-19 in the North of Brazil.

In Roraima, the ICRC donated 70% alcohol-based sanitiser and over 18,000 pairs of medical gloves to help ensure the appropriate sanitisation of the place and the safety of healthcare professionals during the first few months of the hospital.

In Manaus, the transit shelter houses migrants who take part in the Operação Acolhida internal resettlement programme, where they receive a medical check-up before traveling to their destination cities elsewhere in Brazil. The ICRC donations included 70% alcohol-based sanitiser, bleach, washing-up liquid and other cleaning products to ensure the appropriate hygiene of the shelter for three months, enhancing the safety of migrants, humanitarian workers and the shelter's authorities.

Water and sanitation

The construction of hydraulic infrastructure related to water access and/or sanitation facilities in Pacaraima (Roraima) are still underway. These are essential works for supporting hygiene, one of the key prevention efforts against COVID-19. The water supply project in the Bautista community and public schools is in progress – the water pumps are now being purchased and installed. Meanwhile, the water supply project of Tarau Paru is now at the stage of monitoring pump operation and extending the network. Also in Tarau Paru, the construction of the healthcare centre is in progress, while the toilets of the Alcides Lima school are still at an early building stage.

Donations to violence-stricken communities

We have also been working in Ceará to support the authorities in addressing the humanitarian consequences of armed violence in the cities, donating 550 kits with bleach, powder detergent and soap for communities in need in Fortaleza. We have also started an emergency fund to provide three-month support to local displaced families deemed vulnerable groups by the Acolhe network, an initiative by Ceará's Public Ombudsman.

In Rio de Janeiro, the ICRC donated personal protective equipment to the municipalities of Rio de Janeiro (RJ) and Duque de Caxias (RJ), as well as to the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz). Donations included N95 masks, triple-layer disposable masks and 70% alcohol-based hand sanitiser given to the local Health and Education Departments, which have partnered with the ICRC for implementing the "Safer Access" methodology. Also, the Secretaria da Administração Penitenciária (Penitentiary System Authority, SAP) of Rio de Janeiro received industrial sewing machines to support the continuous production of face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.