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Latin America’s slum dwellers lead coronavirus battle

By Fabio Teixeira, Anastasia Moloney and Oscar Lopez

Huddled over sewing machines in their cramped homes in Mare, a sprawling 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.

“Almost half of the women in Mare are financially responsible for their homes,” Lopes, 32, said over the phone, adding that the project is backed by three Brazilian banks.

“Now they are very happy, and grateful to be working on something that has a higher purpose.”

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 emerging as the new epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The respiratory disease is spreading quickly through the region, claiming the lives of more than 31,000 people and infecting more than 570,000, according to a tally by the World Health Organization (WHO).

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.

But many slum dwellers say they have received little or no government aid to help them cope with the economic and health fallout, leaving them to fend for themselves and community leaders to fill the gaps.

“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.

A spokesman for Brazil’s health ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

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