A collective tragedy that cannot be silenced: in October, Brazil reached the milestone of 600,000 deaths by Covid-19. At least a third of them were between 30 and 60 years old, and deaths under the age of 30 represent about 1.7% of the total. Mostly men.
There is a number of this unknown and silenced tragedy: the one that reveals how many (and who) are its orphans.
We are talking about a generation that, in a few days, lost a father, mother (sometimes both) or grandparents. A generation that could not say goodbye, watch over and bury their parents. That will live with an individual and collective trauma that for now we are unable to scale.
One estimate –since we do not have official data– is that around 113,000 minors have lost their father, mother or both. If we include grandparents as caregivers, there are at least 130 thousand children and teenagers. Most of the orphans lost their father, who was historically responsible for the financial support of the family.
In other words, we will also need to measure the impact of this scenario on the deepening of inequalities and poverty.
Covid’s Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPI), carried out by the Federal Senate, collaborated so that death from the disease and mourning came out of invisibility.
His work was fundamental for the construction of the collective memory of our trauma, so that those responsible for this criminal tragedy are punished – that their actions are not forgotten.
The important role of giving a voice to those who suffered and still suffer from the consequences of the disease, of giving a voice to their orphans, was also fulfilled.
It is the responsibility of society and the State to welcome them.
It is urgent to develop programs and public policies that guarantee minors opportunities to (re)build their lives and fulfill their dreams, while it is essential to welcome our orphans in their mourning.
We need to learn from the past
Let’s look at a recent and very Brazilian example: the victims of the Zika virus epidemic. Children with microcephaly. Women, the “Zika Moms”, who had to give up their lives to dedicate themselves to the intensive and comprehensive care of their children.
Most of these victims live in the Northeast of the country, they are poor, mothers who became unemployed and were abandoned by their partners. Mothers and children who carry out an exhaustive and daily routine of essential treatments for the development and well-being of children.
Children who were born victimized by Zika sequelae, in the worst outbreak that Brazil has experienced, in 2015 and 2016, were initially entitled to the Continuous Cash Benefit (BPC).
Only in 2019 was a law enacted that approved the right to a lifetime pension of one monthly minimum wage.
However, access to treatment depends on the place of residence, public policy networks and programs available in the locations, it depends on the main caregiver fully dedicating himself/herself to the care and transport of the children.
In practice, many of these women and children depend on the charity of their neighbors. Not only to guarantee the treatment of their children, but also the support of the family.
The reality of Zika victims is an example of forgetfulness, invisibility and neglect that cannot be silenced or repeated.
It is a negligence that transcends the economic sphere, the guarantee of an “income for survival”. It is a social and emotional negligence of collective responsibility.
An important lesson from epidemics is that their impacts are always worst among the most vulnerable.
The uncontrolled proliferation of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and the rapid spread of the Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever viruses are old acquaintances in Brazilian public health.
Its proliferation is greater in locations with poor access to drinking water and the sewerage system. Therefore, poorer areas, with a more vulnerable population.
Pandemics are not “egalitarian”, and neither is that of coronaviruses. In it, the poor and blacks were also the most affected, children were especially affected.
Like Zika victims, Covid deaths in Brazil come from income, class and race. It is precisely these people who are most affected by comorbidities identified as a risk factor. And now your children, thousands, are left to their own devices.
Different bills that aim to guarantee income for minors orphaned by Covid are being processed in the House and Senate. Proposals made blindly, because we don’t even know who and how many they are! How to propose actions, forecast a budget for the distribution of benefits and reception programs?
There is a lot to do, and time is running out. We soon completed two years of pandemic: will Brazil reproduce the negligence?
As Covid’s CPI report demonstrates, there is a fundamental difference between Zika and Covid that should be remembered: the latter has in its history the indelible mark of the actions of a government that deliberately collaborated with the spread of the virus and its aggravation of the pandemic, which deepens trauma and increases collective responsibility.
What is society’s commitment to the future of an entire generation of Covid’s orphans and victims?
The pain, sequelae and consequences of the disease in the life story of each victim need to be understood as collective, never individualized. Every death needs to be remembered. Orphans will always be Covid orphans.
A pandemic is a collective trauma that needs to be worked out by the collective. From the beginning we spoke avidly and hurriedly pointed to the “new normal”. How to get back to normal in the face of such trauma?
In addition to the urgent implementation of public policies, Brazilian society must do the work of mourning.
It is necessary to recount and recount our individual experiences with Covid and collectively elaborate its political and social meanings, and the marks of the pandemic in our history: building the memory of trauma.
Only in this way is it possible to re-elaborate and recreate – there is no going back to the old normal, and a new one in the future will only be a possibility if we commit to it.
This commitment involves the rescue of politics, the understanding that public policies, speeches and political decisions matter. The construction of memory or forgetting is a political and collective decision, which will be tattooed on the social body.
May Brazil not forget. Our victims and orphans will need more than access to cash aid to rebuild their lives.
Many Brazilian children are now grieving, even more vulnerable, living in uncertainty about their future as a result of the pandemic.
Who will take care of them? How will they do the grief work? How many will need to go through adoption processes? How many will even have the chance of adoption? What will become of our future as a society if your (our) pains are silenced?