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Exhausted frontline workers as Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll exceeds 500,000 

 June 2021: In the light of Brazil surpassing half a million deaths from Covid-19 last weekend, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called for attention to be paid to the prolonged pressure on essential public service workers who are responding to the pandemic.

mainpicThe ICRC is launching a new phase of its campaign, Value the Essential, to highlight the human aspects of workers responding to the pandemic. Image: sudok1/123rf

“For 2021 in Brazil, we are concerned about who is on the frontline of response to the pandemic. They are human beings, not superheroes,” says Simone Casabianca-Aeschlimann, head of the 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.”
 
The ICRC is launching a new phase of its campaign, Value the Essential, to highlight the human aspects of workers responding to the pandemic. Videos and photos are being shared on the organisation's social networks and can be followed using the hashtag #ValorizeOEssencial.
 
Overall, 1,600 healthcare professionals have died from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome caused by Covid-19 up to 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 have 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 per cent), physicians (11.0 per cent) and community health agents (5.1 per cent).
 
“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 stigmatisation, harassment and attacks on these workers,” says Lívia Schunk, technical manager for the ICRC's Acesso Mais Seguro (AMS) programme. She continues: “The attacks on healthcare, social assistance and education professionals are much more harmful than it may seem. It affects the community as a whole by leaving the population less assisted.”
 
The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the difficult situations faced by Brazil’s population. These challenges are the focus of ICRC’s action in the country: 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 twelve months of the pandemic.
 
In addition, the numbers show that the pandemic did little to dampen violence. 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. 
 
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,” comments Schunk.
 
Girliane da Cruz is the co-ordinator 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 behaviours and gives us more security.”
 
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