de Macedo AV. Brazil and COVID-19—A Fleeting Glimpse of What Is to Come. JAMA Health Forum. Published online September 4, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamahealthforum.2020.1061
Since its outbreak in December 2019, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has reached virtually every corner of the globe. As the world’s fastest growing hotspot, Brazil has become Latin America’s most affected country, with more than 3.2 million confirmed cases and more than 100 000 deaths, ranking second to the United States.1
With a population of more than 200 million residents, Brazil ranks sixth among the most populous countries and ninth among the world’s largest economies. However, Brazil also ranks high for its significant socioeconomic disparities. More than one-fifth of its population lives in poverty, mainly Black and mixed-race individuals. Among Black and mixed race residents, 13.5 million earn only US $1.90/day, and an equal proportion live in favelas (slums), with overcrowded and poor sanitary conditions.2 Illiteracy rates remain high, reaching 20% in those older than 60 years and virtually double among Black individuals than White individuals.3 Of greater immediate concern, unemployment has affected more than 12% of the country’s workforce; informal jobs and unpaid leave account for 30% to 60% of this.4 Despite government cash-transfer schemes, including roughly US $110 per month (less than one-quarter of the country’s average monthly per capita income), many have not yet benefited from them. While logistical issues may partly explain this, fraud at various levels has also prevented financial aid from reaching millions in need. Of these, more than 10 million are rural workers who largely depend on family farming for their livelihood. One might thus expect the millions in poverty to be those who bear the brunt of the pandemic.
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