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‘Ghostbuster’ deep cleans favela streets in Brazil to fight coronavirus

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Thiago Firmino sprays disinfectant in an alley to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus, at the Santa Marta slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, April 10, 2020. Firmino, who works as a tourist guide in the favela, helped organize a group to buy sanitization equipment with donated funds and are now disinfecting the alleyways of the favela. PHOTO: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Indigenous people fear decimation after first virus death
When coronavirus hit and tourists stopped coming to Thiago Firmino’s Rio de Janeiro favela tour, he decided to act. Unwilling to wait for officials to react, he donned a white suit and set about disinfecting the streets of the Santa Marta slum, reports Reuters.
Having watched with horror as the virus spread round the world, Firmino, 39, launched a scheme to sanitize the Santa Marta favela.
Dressed as a “Ghostbuster,” Firmino leads the latest in a growing number of community-led programmes to combat the spread of a virus that many expect to wreak havoc in Brazil’s poor, densely-packed slums.
“I wouldn’t call it heroic, but we have a ferocious attitude,” said Firmino as he took a break from spraying the stairways and back alleys of Santa Marta to the applause of quarantined residents.
“The favela is always forgotten. Anything that happens in the city, the favela is always the last to receive any benefit. Healthcare is precarious and the question of public hygiene and trash is also precarious.”
Around 4,000 people live in Santa Marta, one of Rio’s most iconic favelas.
Set behind the beachside neighbourhood of Botafogo, it boasts spectacular views of the Sugar Loaf Mountain and even a statue of Michael Jackson, who filmed the video to his song “They Don’t Care About Us” in Santa Marta.
Firmino’s wife, Wilcieide Miranda, said that so far there were no known cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in the slum.
She and her husband rely on community donations to undertake their sanitation work.
“Tourism is the first to stop and the last to return,” said Firmino. “We are doing this voluntary action with residents so we can take care of ourselves, because I would rather be without work than without my life.”
This week, authorities reported the first six coronavirus deaths in Rio’s favelas, which are often controlled by drug gangs and violent self-defence militias.
Last month, Reuters reported that gangsters had imposed curfews in some of the city’s slums to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
On Wednesday, Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said he would talk with the gangsters who act as the slums’ de facto rulers about how to best tackle the virus.
“They are also human beings and they need to collaborate, help, participate,” he said.
So far, 1,057 people have died from COVID-19 in Brazil, with 19,638 confirmed cases, according to the latest official figures on Friday. Nearly 150 people have died in Rio state, where there are 2,464 cases, the figures show.
Meanwhile, the death of Alvanei Xirixana, a 15-year-old from the Yanomami community, who spent nearly a week in intensive care after contracting coronavirus, has heightened fears among some that the disease could wipe out indigenous people living in the Amazon, reports newsmax.com quoting The Guardian.
People aren’t sure how the teen, who lived outside of the reserve, contracted coronavirus.
According to the website Amazônia Real, the 70-person village was isolated, along with Xirixana’s parents, five health workers and a pilot.
Some people, however, suspect the disease was introduced to the community after 20,000 illegal gold miners began work in the Yanomami village, which sits along the border between Brazil and Venezuela.
Brazilian public health physician Sofia Mendonça works with indigenous communities and says removing the intruders from the area will be vital for the survival of the indigenous people.
“If we don’t get these people out of the [indigenous] areas the chance of contagion is much greater,” Mendonça warned.
The teen’s death on Thursday from coronavirus stoked fear among many Yanomami people that the disease could wipe out their community. It also reignited memories of when the measles nearly wiped them out in 1970s and 1980s.
Carlo Zaquini, an Italian missionary, has worked in Yanomami in Brazil for over 50 years. He believes gold miners and roadbuilders brought measles into the community during that period.
“It was like driving a bulldozer into a glass factory. Everything was shattered. It was one epidemic after another,” Zaquini, 82, told The Guardian. “In some of the villages I knew measles killed 50% of the population. If Covid does the same thing it would be a massacre.”
Today, health officials in Brazil have identified 24 suspected coronavirus cases within the 850,000 indigenous population, according to Agencia Brasil.

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