COVID-19 threatens to decimate most vulnerable groups in Brazil

  • Indigenous groups, migrants and communities in peripheral areas are at great risk
  • Brazil now at 3rd place in the ranking of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide
  • 6% of Brazil’s population live in slums - more than 11 million people- larger than the total population of countries such as Austria and Sweden

May 19, 2020- The aggressive spread of COVID-19 threatens to decimate vulnerable communities in Brazil, as the country becomes the epicentre of the pandemic in Latin America, warns humanitarian organisation, World Vision.

Brazil is third worldwide in the ranking of COVID-19 confirmed cases, only behind the USA and Russia. Brazil’s Ministry of Health registered 262,545 confirmed cases and 17,509 deaths, as of May 19. As these figures continue to rise, the most vulnerable - Indigenous people, riverside dwellers, inhabitants of favelas, migrants and refugees - are at extreme risk.

The state of Amazonas, located North of Brazil, is presenting the most worrying data. With just under 4 million inhabitants, the state is 13th in population size, but has already jumped to the fourth position in total number of deaths by COVID-19 in the country.

Amazonas also concentrates 12 of the 20 cities with the highest incidence of cases of the disease in Brazil and five out of the 10 municipalities with the highest mortality rate. The uncontrollable increase in the number of cases has led hospital beds to maximum occupancy and health and funeral services to collapse.

 “Hospitals have run out of beds, health workers are overwhelmed and there are horrific scenes of mass graves. This is making it difficult for families and even for funeral homes to provide quick and timely services”, said Luis Corzo, World Vision Brazil Response Director.

Indigenous people and riverside dwellers

Manaus, the state capital, is a gateway to communities across the Amazon basin, and if the virus spreads, it could decimate many vulnerable indigenous groups and riverside dwellers. World Vision is on the ground there, working with the Presbyterian Church to provide nutrition, sanitation kits and promoting behavioural change to prevent infections. World Vision’s work is concentrated in Manaus and in Manacapuru, a municipality that currently leads the national registers of COVID-19 cases and deaths for groups of 100,000 inhabitants.

“Most of the people living in the Amazonas’ region need to move because they work in the informal sector or are unemployed,” explained Joao Diniz, World Vision Regional Leader, Latin America and the Caribbean.  “In this scenario, people have to choose between dying from COVID-19 or starving.”

Migrants and refugees

Amazonas is also one of the three states where World Vision has worked with migrant populations coming from Venezuela, including indigenous people. In addition to Amazonas, the NGO provides humanitarian help to migrants in the states of São Paulo and Roraima, the main gateway for Venezuelan migrants into the country.

Brazilian authorities estimate around 260,000 Venezuelan migrants currently living in Brazil. Pre-existing limitations to access water, health services and proper nutrition faced by the populations become extremely threatening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slum and peripheral communities’ dwellers

Brazil has the 9th largest economy on the planet, but the wealthiest 1% of the population earns 33 times more than the poorest 50%, according to the World Economic Forum. WV Brazil’s National Director, Martha Yaneth Rodríguez, said “inequality is the key factor that is driving Brazil´s COVID-19 exponential curve”.

At the base of this inequality pyramid, there are residents of favelas and slums in the outskirts of large urban centres, another priority group, which World Vision assists with humanitarian aid. Official data indicates that 6% of Brazil’s population live in slums -which corresponds to more than 11 million people- a contingent larger than the total population of countries such as Austria and Sweden. In these communities, many vulnerabilities end up intersecting, with migrant and indigenous populations, for example.

World Vision’s response

“World Vision has been working in the COVID-19 response for two months.  We have reached over a million people in Brazil directly in 12 states of the republic, with the highest infection rates.” Said Joao Diniz.

World Vision is responding in more than 70 countries across the world, prioritising the most vulnerable countries. The response aims to target 72 million people, more than half of them children.

The organisation warns any attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19 must also involve addressing secondary impacts.  In a recent report, World Vision estimates that up to 30 million children’s lives are at risk because of secondary health impacts such as deadly diseases like malaria, a lack of immunisation, or increased malnutrition, as health systems are overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.


Notes to Editor:

For further information please contact Paola Bello, WV Brazil Communications  +5511 99261 5826  or Mishelle Mitchell, Regional Director of Communications

Bilingual spokespersons are available to conduct interviews via Skype, Teams or Zoom

Notes to editors

World Vision’s #HiddenHero campaign will shed light throughout our response on those making a real, but unseen difference for the most vulnerable children facing the wrath of COVID-19 in their lives.

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organisation dedicated to working with children, families and their communities to reach their full potential by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender. For more information, please visit or follow us on Twitter @WorldVision