Latin Amer­ica’s slum dwellers fight their own bat­tle against virus

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - HT SPOTLIGHT - Reuters letters@hin­dus­tan­times.com n

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.

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