Success Story

How Maranhão became the state with the lowest covid-19 mortality rate in the country

State averages 121 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, the national figure is almost double at 234

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | Imperatriz (MA) |
An innovative vaccination drive that invoked the traditional "Arraial" celebrations, which happen throughout Brazil during the month of June - Screen capture/Brasil de Fato

A national headliner in the battle against the pandemic due to advances in vaccination programs and the implementation of innovative measures, the state of Maranhão is making the news for a concrete and objective reason: being the state with the lowest covid-19 mortality rate in the country.

According to official data, Maranhão averages 121 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants while the national average is almost double, at about 234.

In a recently published article, the progressive governor of Maranhão, Flávio Dino, highlights the efforts that according to him, led to this achievement. The measures go beyond investments in health care, such as making a large numbers of hospital beds available, they also include investment into social programs aimed at the distribution of income, and offering services to the most vulnerable families.

Maranhão is the state with the largest number of Brazilians living in extreme poverty, according to 2020 data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). At the time, it is estimated that 1.4 million people lived in this situation, and this figure was certainly made worse by the pandemic.

With shoddy access to the hospital network, families with minimal or even non-existent sanitation infrastructure are unable to comply with coronavirus prevention measures. All studies indicated that the state would be one of the worst at fighting the pandemic, which reinforced the need for putting efforts in place from the beginning.

“Contrary to what we are seeing, all the studies pointed out that Maranhão should be one of the worst states in the country at confronting Covid-19, because it has a very limited hospital infrastructure compared to the number of cases we had in the country at the outset. However, we demonstrated the opposite, we enhanced our healthcare network, we undertook social distancing measures at the right time and we always respected science”, explains State Health Secretary Carlos Lula, who is also the President of the National Council of Health Secretaries (Conass).

Another worrying factor, caused by the collapse of food security policies and aggravated by the pandemic, was access to food. According to the world hunger map, it is estimated that 1 in 4 Brazilians ran out of food at some point during the pandemic.

In order to combat these figures, the State Secretary for Family Agriculture, Rodrigo Lado, cites the creation of the Food at the Table program, which works on two fronts. On the one hand, purchasing products from family farmers, guaranteeing income for these families, on the other hand, donating produce to those facing food insecurity.

“With food safety, better health is guaranteed for the population, in addition to fighting the coronavirus itself. It is a set of actions that assure income for the family farmer through investments in the field on the one hand, and on the other hand, ensure that this production coming from the rural areas of Maranhão reaches the tables of those who need it most”.

Despite the programs, the latent reality is that many families are still neglected by public policies at any level, whether municipal, state or federal. Invisible to society, when seen, they fill the streets and traffic lights with calls for help.

In this context, it is deeds of solidarity that spread throughout the country that filled the role of the state, offering food, housing and basic health care.

In Maranhão, the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) develops actions in conjunction with other social movements in the state, and was awarded by the Maranhão Human Rights Society (SMDH), in recognition of its initiatives to counteract the impacts of the pandemic.

Among these initiatives are the donation of food and basic food baskets, the supply of Solidarity Coffee to homeless people, in addition to the training of field health agents who work within rural territories.

“It's still not enough, because any life matters, for us, any family that's shaken up needs attention. We understand that we must continue to demand better public policies from the state, provided by the Unified Healthcare System, or SUS. That's why we fight for the strengthening of this system, which is so important throughout Brazil”, concludes Jonas Borges, the movement’s leader in Maranhão.

Edited by: Vinicius Segalla