Breaking Down Brazil’s Humanitarian Crisis

How the nation quickly fell into a poorly governed disarray.

Image by @jadocarts from Unsplash

As vaccines begin rolling out across the globe, one nation remains frozen in midst of pandemic chaos. Brazil has become the world’s second-largest COVID-19 tormented country, amassing a death toll of +310,000 people and a count of 12.5 million people infected. With a population of 211 million (2019,) Brazil is struggling to contain the deadly virus with little to no help from its government. Economic disarray and coronavirus denial have exacerbated the country’s desperate state, causing many to worry about the global impact of Brazil’s humanitarian crisis.

Food Shortage

Brazil’s food insecurity has been steadily on the rise for over a decade. In 2014, the country’s economic crisis led to 5.1 million undernourished citizens due to spiking unemployment, an increase in food prices, and a lack of government poverty assistance. In 2017, that number rose to 5.2 million.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 55 million people lived below the poverty line. As the virus surges through the country, it’s too soon to tell what the current statistic is, but one thing is certain, it has undeniably increased. Brazil has since issued monthly stipends to assist those who lost their income due to the pandemic. With the economy on a sharp decline, however, many of these payments have yet to reach their beneficiaries. Local groups who assist their communities with food scarcity have become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people seeking aid.

Oxfam, a humanitarian group, warned that the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic have affected women-led households more severely due to an imbalance in the workforce. As a result of this growing trend, organizations have begun springing up around Brazil to protect women and their families from starvation.

“What they told us is that they either starve to death or die of COVID.”

– Milene Maia, advisor from Instituto Socioambiental.

COVID-19 Denial

In a survey conducted by Datafolha, the total number of Brazilians who were against the COVID-19 vaccine rose from 9% to 22% in a matter of 4 months; the increase has been attributed to President Jair Bolsonaro’s aggressive dismissal of the vaccine’s effectiveness.

The embodiment of Brazil’s humanitarian crisis results from the government’s disgraceful response to COVID-19. The discourse surrounding the virus has grown due to Bolsonaro spreading virus-denial rhetoric, echoing that of QAnon conspiracies. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Bolsonaro has been increasingly vocal regarding his rejection of the virus’ severity. Despite contracting coronavirus in July 2020, Bolsonaro has continued to retract the effectiveness of PPE (personal protective equipment,) lockdowns, and vaccines. He has continued to play into conspiracy theories which, in turn, led him to sabotage crucial vaccine rollouts.

As Bolsonaro and his supporters continue to reject COVID-19 safety measures, the pandemic rages through the country. A new variant of the virus, P.1, has been wreaking havoc across the nation. This new strain indicates increased transmissibility and has been proven to have reinfected those who already had COVID-19. Hospitals are overwhelmed, ranging from 80% to 100% capacity, all having to turn patients away to reserve beds for those in desperate need. Brazil’s oxygen supply has been depleted, with many doctors now having to sedate patients in order to spare them from pain. The country desperately needs proper leadership and assistance, yet Bolsonaro claims that “nobody would do better than my government is doing.”

Current vaccines are effective against the new variant, even though P.1 was not as prevalent during initial vaccine trials. Yet its reinfection capabilities have been warning health officials of the possibility of a more severe disease.

UNSPLASH Marília Castelli

Vaccine Controversy

Health officials in Brazil have begun being vaccinated in January 2021, yet the government has failed to obtain and rollout vaccinations nationally. Due to Bolsonaro’s vocal vaccine-denial, he has gone to many lengths to subvert the country from receiving the vaccines. On multiple occasions, he has blocked the delivery of millions of both AstraZeneca and CoronaVac vaccines. As of March 2021, the Ministry of Health has ordered 38 million vials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and 100 million vials of the Pfizer vaccine, yet neither will arrive until May.

Due to lack of vaccines, there have been many instances of healthcare workers injecting unknowing patients with empty syringes, often being called: “shot of air” or “wind vaccines.” Empty vaccines have become such a prevalent issue, the police have begun investigating each claim. Whether their motives are one of comfort for those in desperation or out of malicious intent, those found guilty can be prosecuted for embezzlement – a charge that carries with it a possible 12-year sentence.

Bolsonaro’s efforts to downplay the virus has resulted in the obstruction of local governments from enforcing stricter lockdown and containment efforts. Calls for legal action against President Bolsonaro and Brazil’s Ministry of Health have been presented due to their apparent mishandling of the pandemic. A complaint filed by over 1 million Brazilian medical professionals to the International Criminal Court accused Brazil’s president of “contempt, neglect, and denial,” as well as crimes against humanity.

Brazil’s crisis has grown so dangerous that the World Health Organization has stepped in, issuing a series of alerts warning Brazil’s government to become more proactive in their fight toward containment of the virus. All of which have been ignored by Bolsonaro and his associates.

Brazil is entering a state of extreme crisis while the pandemic continues to rage on, and the government proceeds to ignore international and domestic organizations’ pleas. Many fear the future repercussions of Boslonaro’s actions or lack thereof and what this means for the future of Brazil’s current governmental authorities.

Daniella Fishman


Daniella is an NYC born adventurer with a love of traveling, writing, eating, and rollerskating. Dani is passionate about supporting local communities and exploring everything from bustling city life to quiet woodland retreats. There is an adventure around every corner if you open your eyes and mind to it.

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