Inequality exacerbates pandemics, researchers warn

The globalized economic model, marked by inequalities of various types, should cause more frequent pandemics and intensify differences in quality of life and access to rights, said this week public health experts who participated in a debate to commemorate the centenary of the Federal University of Rio de January (UFRJ). Researcher and professor at the university, epidemiologist Roberto Medronho warned that the frequency with which pandemics occur has increased in the 21st century, when the world has already faced international outbreaks of MERS, SARS, Ebola, swine flu and covid-19.

“The frequency and intensity of pandemics in the world have been accelerating. We need to put a stop to this wild and predatory capitalist model and this social inequality. This is unsustainable with life on the planet. It is not a question of whether we will have other pandemics, but of when will we have”.

Medronho classified the impact of the pandemic in Brazil as “awful” and “dramatic”, and said he believed that the scenario would be much worse if the country did not have a universal public health system. “If we do not reach 1 million deaths, it is because we have the Unified Health System (SUS)”, said the researcher, adding that municipalities with greater inequality had a higher incidence of covid-19. “Individuals of non-white skin color were more affected by deaths in the pandemic. And those with higher education had greater protection. In other words, this pandemic has a face. It is black and poor.”

The epidemiologist emphasizes that, in addition to the direct victims, the pandemic should have broader impacts, such as the closure of jobs caused by the emptying of urban centers, late diagnosis of diseases, sedentary lifestyle, psychological disorders and increased inequality.

“The fear of returning to schools is understandable, because many do not have water, do not have a bathroom or adequate window for ventilation. We need schools that can accommodate these children, because we are affecting an entire generation. School dropout is increasing, many children they didn’t come back,” he said, citing possible consequences of this – sexual abuse, physical abuse, teenage pregnancy, functional illiteracy. “This is a theme that will greatly amplify social inequality.”

The infectious disease specialist warns that inequality and sustainability are issues that impact health. “We will not have peace if we do not have a radical change in the way we live, live together, produce and relate to animals, nature and especially with others”.

Researcher at Fiocruz Bahia and the Federal University of Bahia, epidemiologist Maurício Barreto highlighted that, throughout history, epidemics and infectious diseases have always affected population groups in different ways, affecting social inequality and generating more inequities as a result. .

In the case of the covid-19 pandemic, he recalls that people living in densely populated communities such as favelas are more exposed to contagion, while poor populations suffer more often from health issues such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, considered comorbidities.

“There are several aspects that come together to express this complex that we generically call inequality”, he says, who points out the need to seek global solutions to the pandemic and considers that international organizations have failed to lead a joint response. “In the world, in general, this action of the pandemic was very national. Each country was taking its actions, and each government taking its actions, not seeing a global perspective.”

Economist and public health specialist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) Carlos Gadelha added that these national responses generated a concentration of vaccines in the richest countries. According to the researcher, ten countries concentrate 75% of doses in the world, and while rich nations seek to guarantee the application of the third dose, there are countries where vaccination has not yet started.

An expert at the intersection of development, economy and health, Gadelha warned that the concentration of almost 90% of patents in ten countries indicates that inequality in access to vaccines tends to perpetuate. “Today’s patent is tomorrow’s inequality. It is tomorrow’s barrier to access. It is not entering into a binary discourse for or against patents. But this is reflected in structural inequality in this pandemic and in the next ones.”

For him, the health sector can present itself as an important alternative for sustainable development, articulating private and social interests. The economist cites what happened with the production of vaccines at the Butantan Institute and at Fiocruz’s Institute of Technology in Immunobiologicals (Bio-Manguinhos), in partnership with companies developing these technologies.