Latin America’s slum dwellers fight their own battle against virus
RIODEJANEIRO/BOGOTA: Huddled over sewing machines in cramped homes in Mare, a complex of favelas in Rio de Janeiro, about 50 women are on a mission to make two free face masks for each of the area’s 140,000 slum residents within the next two months.
The women - the majority of whom lost their jobs to the coronavirus pandemic watched videos on how to make face masks and are being paid above the market rate, said Andreza Lopes, who coordinates the project for the nonprofit Redes da Mare.
The project is one of dozens of initiatives taking place in shanty towns across the region - from Brazil to Venezuela, Colombia to Mexico - as poor communities come together to help the most vulnerable during the pandemic.
Latin America is the new epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. The disease is spreading quickly through the region, claiming the lives of more than 31,000 people and infecting more than 570,000.
Across Latin America and the Caribbean, about 113 million people - nearly one in five - live in slums, where health experts say Covid-19 infection rates tend to be higher due to poor nutrition, cramped housing and ill health. Many slum dwellers say they have received little or no government aid to help them cope with the fallout, leaving them to fend for themselves.
‘IT’S A VERY TRAGIC SITUATION’
“It’s a very tragic situation right now... nothing significant is being done by the state,” said Alessandra Orofino, head of the Brazilian nonprofit Nossas, which works in favelas and creates technology tools for social movements.
With limited access to sanitation and millions of people crammed together in close quarters, Latin American slums are especially vulnerable to the pandemic, health experts say.
“In those places where you have high human density, and you have overcrowding... you have a perfect environment for transmission,” said Federico Costa, an infectious disease expert at Brazil’s Federal University of Bahia.