In São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and the most affected by COVID-19, our activities are focusing on homeless people, migrants and refugees, drug users and the elderly. Our teams are providing medical consultations for screening and detection of people suspected to have COVID-19 and referring patients with severe symptoms to hospitals. We are running medical activities in two isolation centres for vulnerable people, with the ability to treat up to 140 patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms. MSF staff are also providing training on hygiene measures, in partnership with local authorities and organisations that are already involved with the street population in São Paulo.
In Rio de Janeiro we are running COVID-19 screening and health promotion activities with vulnerable communities, but organising patient referrals is difficult due to the overcrowded hospitals. We continue to train local health professionals on infection prevention control measures. MSF staff are also making plans to support healthcare in indigenous areas, where the number of COVID-19 transmissions is rising.
In the far north, our work in Boa Vista aims to lighten the burden on the local system, both in relation to COVID-19 and other diseases. We are working with Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers who live in precarious conditions, with little space and often without regular access to water. Our health promotion teams have visited informal shelters, providing hygiene and physical distancing guidance to residents. Work is also being carried out, together with partner organisations, to expand access to water in formal and informal shelters. Hygiene kits are being distributed on site.
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Following the Haiti earthquake of January 2010, thousands of Haitians fled the devastation and sought asylum in Brazil. Stranded in the border town Tabatinga, and unable to work or leave until they received authorisation, many were living in extremely poor conditions. In November of 2010, Médecins Sans Frontières began offering psychological support and distributed washing kits.
By January of 2012, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice announced that some 4,000 Haitians would be granted residence and work visas. The federal government also opened up legal migration opportunities from Haiti. With the improvement in the situation, MSF’s program was closed in February 2012.
Many Haitians left Tabatinga for the city of Manaus, and an MSF team provided training in mental healthcare and health promotion to health staff and social workers in Manaus.