Increase in the cases of Covid-19 creates more risks for the populations in occupied areas  

Physician and activist in the MST Health Sector, Joelson Silva, warns of the dangers to people living in occupied areas if the measure that prohibits evictions in the pandemic is not extended by the STF
Physician and activist in the MST Health Sector, Joelson Silva, warns of the dangers to people living in occupied areas if the measure that prohibits evictions in the pandemic is not extended by the STF
For Joelson, in the middle of a pandemic, it’s unjust and unconstitutional for people who live in occupied areas to suffer eviction and not have the right to health guaranteed. Photo: Aline Oliveira/CE

By Solange Engelmann
From the MST web site

Last Monday (6/13), Brazil recorded 70 deaths and 40,173 new cases of Covid-19, according to the National Council of Health Secretaries (Conass), thus confirming the increase in cases that has grown since the end of the month of May.

On the other hand, thousands of Brazilian families living in rural and urban occupation areas also live with the uncertainty of being left without a home and a place to produce food, if ADPF nº 828, granted by the Federal Supreme Court (STF) until June 30th, is not extended until the end of the pandemic.

In this context, Joelson Santos Silva, a Family and Community doctor, who works at a Health Center in the state of Pernambuco and is part of the MST’s health sector, draws attention to the need to maintain health care to avoid an increase in cases of Coronavirus in the areas of encampments and settlements across the country and warns about the risks of increased contagion, especially in the health of the population living in the occupied areas, if the ADPF is not extended by the STF.

Joelson Santos Silva, doctor and activist in the MST Health Sector. Photo: personal archive

What is the danger of the new increase in Covid-19 cases for MST families in the encampments and settlements and in the resumption of activities in these places?

We are going through a moment of increase in the number of new infections of Covid and also of deaths, mainly from the 30th of May to the 8th of June we have only seen an increase in the number of cases. On June 8th, we had 301 deaths in 24 hours and 51,265 new cases. This shows a significant increase from the previous two weeks. There is an increase of 112%.

What is important to understand about this? Of the factors that are influencing this increase, the main one is the removal of masks as mandatory in closed spaces and in open environments. Many researchers, and I also agree with this idea, thought it was very early. We are still in a global pandemic; even if times are better, it can still hit us.

And there is also the issue of vaccinations. We have made little progress, especially in the second and third doses, with a small number of people vaccinated. Over time, the vaccine begins to stop working, especially in older people and people with weakened immune systems. So, with the low vaccination coverage in the booster doses (3rd and 4th dose), in children aged 5 to 11 years, especially in the 2nd dose, vaccination coverage has been very low. All of this contributes.

We also have a month of many parties: the month of June, with the most popular festival in Brazil, the Festa Junina. In addition, not wearing masks, low vaccination coverage, low effect of vaccines for longer than 3 or 4 months, all this contributes to the increase in the number of cases we are experiencing.

If it is not extended by the STF, ADPF nº 828, which suspended urban and rural evictions during the pandemic, ends on June 30. What is the impact of this, along with the increase in the number of Covid cases in the country?

We have thousands of families in encampments throughout Brazil. If this measure is not extended starting July 1, these families can be evicted. This is a very big risk, especially at this time of increasing number of cases, infections and deaths from Covid.

We know that eviction is a psychologically and/or physically violent act, and this violence lowers the immunity of these families. So, this can increase the risk of contracting the infection, as well as this movement of families from one space to another. There are usually many people involved so this increases the risk of contracting the disease.

These families will be harmed, as well as having to leave their spaces where some are already producing food, so there is a loss of this possibility. All of this leaves these families more vulnerable to infection. So the measure should be extended. At this moment, these families are not in a position to suffer these aggressions and experience violence in the midst of a pandemic. So it’s really unconstitutional for that to happen.

So, how to guarantee the right to health for families in occupied areas, who suffer from the serious threat of evictions at any time, if the STF does not extend ADPF 828?

The Federal Constitution [of 1988] says that the “right to health is our right and a duty of the state”. The state must guarantee free health care, aiming at the expanded concept of health. For this reason, it is important that our areas in all encampments have data on these families – how many families, the age of the people, how many have diabetes, how many have high blood pressure, how many have lung disease, how many have other diseases, who has been vaccinated, who has not been vaccinated, not only for Covid, children under 5 years old.

It is also important to go to the Health Department of the places and guide with this data the health care that is a right guaranteed by the Constitution, regardless of whether a person is in an encampment or a settlement. It is enough to be a Brazilian who has the right guaranteed by the Constitution to health, and it is a duty of the state to fulfill it through the SUS [Sistema Único de Saúde].

It is also important that we fight in defense of the SUS, participate in movements, spaces of struggle for health such as local councils, municipal health councils, the free health conferences that are also taking place in preparation for the national health conference. All these spaces are important for us to participate in because they are where we discuss, build a proposal based on the population, based on who really needs our priorities, what are our main problems, the particularities we have.

Society as a whole also needs to understand the role of these families, why these families are in encampments, what is the importance of the fight for land, for housing and that this moment is unfair and unconstitutional. In the midst of the pandemic these families are suffering eviction and may end up far from spaces that can offer health care. So it is important to struggle, to understand the Constitution and be present in these popular spaces of health councils and defend the SUS with a banner of struggle for the whole of Brazilian society.

With the increase in the number of cases of the Coronavirus, what are the recommendations and care for Landless families in settlements and encampments and in other areas of Agrarian Reform?

At this point it is important to reinforce care measures for our entire base. In settlements and encampments, it is important to preserve our elderly people or those who have a serious illness, avoid going to the city at this time, and avoid being in spaces with a lot of people, crowded spaces.

Vaccinations for those who have not taken the second or third dose yet. The fourth dose is already released for people over 50 years old or with comorbidities. It is important that our base get vaccinated, getting vaccinated is also a task of the MST militancy as a whole. The correct use of masks, especially N95 masks, for families who are in encampments.  In case of the possibility of eviction, any demonstration or political activity, the use of N95 masks is the most recommended now, since most infections, from 70 to 80% is from Ômicron, the B12 variant, a variant for which cloth and disposable masks cannot provide a sufficient barrier to prevent infection.

Keep a distance, especially when you are in activities with many people. In collective activities, be in open, ventilated places, keeping the distance of 1.5 meters, the correct use of masks, prevent people who are not vaccinated from being in that place. If there is anyone with flu-like symptoms, do not participate in these events. Wash hands correctly, using gel with alcohol or use soap.

And to continue in productive isolation, our duty is to produce healthy food for the population. We have more than 33 million Brazilians going hungry. And in all states to strengthen the health sector, this is not just a task for the sector, but for the entire movement.

How is the MST mobilizing in the fight for the extension of the ADPF, which prohibits evictions during the pandemic?

The MST, along with other organizations and popular movements in the countryside, are joining in activities to denounce the unconstitutionality, the risk to people, if this measure is not extended. So, we have to press government entities, from the state to municipal entities, to take the demand to federal entities, especially the Federal Supreme Court, the importance of extending the measure since we don’t have an improvement in the pandemic in Brazil.

It is important to struggle, to show society how to join in, since we have many families who are in encampments and at this moment are more vulnerable to suffering infections from the coronavirus, dying from that and from other diseases as well. And the principle of SUS is equity, for those who are more vulnerable, to be offering more resources, more access to health for these people.

*Edited by Fernanda Alcântara