On the Front Lines

Soap and even water are lacking: basic health care battles covid amid precariousness

Pandemic worsened a scenario of instability and directly affected workers' mental health

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
The covid-19 pandemic is creating many challenges for healthcare professionals - Carl de Souza/AFP

Professionals who work at the gateway to the Brazilian Unified Health System (SUS), and who already suffered from precarious working conditions, are increasingly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic. Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), training and even soap and water are lacking.

A survey by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, one of the main scientific research institutes in Brazil, heard nurses, healthcare agents who combat endemic diseases, doctors, as well as psychologists who are part of the Family Health Strategy inside Emergency Care Units and Psycho-social Care Centers.

The conclusions are that part of these laborers work under fragile employment ties, with little access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), without guidance and reporting feelings of sadness and anguish.

Of the more than 250 respondents, all located in the city of Rio de Janeiro, over 14% have temporary contracts and 3.9% receive remuneration through scholarships, are hired as legal entities or have other types of labor contracts.

Researcher Regimarina Reis states that "employment ties that do not ensure stability nor labor rights for these professionals were witnessed. This exposes workers to insecurity and vulnerability, even in cases of leave due to a covid-19 infection".

Regimarina, who is one of the study’s coordinators, adds, "this data draws even more attention if we note the ample exposure of workers to risks, evidenced by the problem of lack of PPEs during the pandemic".

The number of those who report not having had enough PPEs to do their jobs with is 32.9%. More than 17% said they did not have access to soap or water every time it was necessary.

Part of the workers (35.3%) also claim to feel insecure about the use of protective equipment, and more than 50% said they had not undergone training on the use of the apparatus.

Not even covid-19 training was fully available. The lack of access to information was noted in the responses of 44.5% of survey participants.

Problems such as late salaries and lack of mental health support prevail for these professionals. In 57.6% of the responses, participants said their shifts are longer is and more than 20% had their salaries delayed. More than 60% mentioned feelings of anguish and sadness.

The full results of the survey are available on the Fiocruz website.

Edited by: Rebeca Cavalcante