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Helping Brazil’s communities cope with COVID

  • Date

    Fri 11 Dec 20

View across the rooftops of a favela in Brazil

A researcher from Essex Business School has been granted rapid response Covid funding for a project which will help vulnerable communities in Brazil cope as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to develop.

The Essex project, led by Professor Ileana Steccolini, is one of 40 studies funded by the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Newton Fund.

The project will see Professor Steccolini working with communities in Sao Paulo and Belem, as well as with local NGOs. Through interviews, she will identify successful strategies to cope with the consequences of the pandemic and make interventions such as vaccinations more effective.

This work will also inform planning for future interventions, in particular vaccine delivery.

We talked to Professor Steccolini about why Brazilian communities face unique challenges, and how her work can help ensure they get the support and healthcare they need.

What are the objectives of the project?

“We aim to identify ways in which public interventions (such as vaccinations, or other actions to cope with covid) can become more effective in vulnerable communities when resorting to co-production, ie, when citizens’ collaboration is central for the success of such interventions.

“Many social interventions for COVID-19 prevention and control require co-operation from citizens to be effective. Local communities and their local leaders know their daily needs, their areas, and the social environment better than the government. To cope with COVID-19, and similar future crises, members of the vulnerable community need to be engaged as part of the solution, and given voice.

“Our proposal aims to understand how to enact effective co-production with members of these communities and municipal councils. The project will promote an exercise on co-production to design tactics and solutions to prepare neighbourhoods for facing future interventions, and in particular vaccine delivery.”

What are the unique challenges that make responding to Covid-19 in Brazil difficult?

“Brazil has a long history of disconnection and lack of trust between vulnerable communities (slums and favelas) and public authorities, due to diverse reasons, including failures in service delivery, overuse of violence by the police force, and the presence of militias.

“This makes public intervention to cope with pandemics, as well as other emergencies, more challenging. Yet, many social interventions for COVID-19 prevention and control require co-operation from citizens to be effective. Looking at how co-production can work in local vulnerable communities in Brazil will allow us to learn more general lessons, to be applied both to the local communities under investigation, as well as others with comparable features.”

Portrait of Professor Ileana Steccolini from Essex Business School
"Brazil has a long history of disconnection and lack of trust between vulnerable communities and public authorities...This makes public intervention to cope with pandemics more challenging."
Professor Ileana Steccolini essex business school

How has Brazil coped with the Covid-19 crisis so far?

“Of course the press has exposed the difficulties faced by Brazil, among other countries. However, our preliminary explorations highlight that actions taken by local communities have made a difference in coping with the challenges of the pandemic.”

Will what you learn be relevant to other countries?

“Our project builds on the idea of co-production, and investigates how it can work in cases which can be considered as being challenging for co-production to work, ie where there is low trust in public authorities, pandemic, vulnerable communities, or in an emerging country.

“We think this will provide a very important basis to understand how citizens can be involved also in “hostile” environments, allowing us to learn lessons on what “works”, and under which conditions, even in challenging cases.

“We especially hope this will help in advancing our capacity to engage citizens in vaccination exercises, which are shown to be difficult also in developed economies, less vulnerable communities, and countries where trust in public authorities is higher.”

Professor Steccolini’s co-investigators on the project are André Busanelli de Aquino, from the University of Sao Paulo, and Lidiane Nazaré da Silva Dias and Andre’ Feliciano Lino from the University Federal of Para.

Dr Steccolini’s project is one of two Essex studies to be supported by the rapid response UKRI fund. Find out more about Professor Han Dorussen’s study which will help communities in Uganda.