University of São Paulo: Political tensions led Brazil to fail to combat covid-19, report says

THEBrazil is one of the biggest failures in combating covid-19, alongside the United States. The conclusion is in a report prepared by researchers from 16 countries and released in January, which analyzed the responses to the pandemic in each nation, taking into account the relationship between public health, politics and the economy. In Brazil, according to the paper, political tensions have led to controversies over social isolation and the use of medicines and have caused extensive and profound damage in combating the disease and now hamper vaccination planning. The Comparative Covid Response project : Crisis, Knowledge, Politics (CompCoRe), who carried out the study, had the collaboration of researchers from USP and the University of Campinas (Unicamp), who continue with research on how the authorities and the population perceive and deal with covid-19.

The project seeks to analyze policies, decision-making processes and responses to the covid-19 pandemic in 16 countries, including Brazil. “The emphasis is on national efforts undertaken to identify epidemiological and biomedical knowledge, decisions related to public health, management of the economic consequences of the pandemic and political support for the implementation of the necessary measures”, says professor Gabriela Di Giulio, from the Faculty of Public Health ( FSP) of USP, who is part of the project team.

20191211_USP-Talks_gabriela-di-giulio
Gabriela Di Giulio – Photo: USP Talks
The work compared countries based on the principle that public health, the economy and politics are interconnected systems. “The team used an analytical matrix, containing a set of variables to be studied in each country, mapping and analysis of the main controversies observed, and building a timeline based on what has been disclosed in the media”, says Gabriela .

“The researchers noted that, wherever weaknesses in a country’s health, economic and political systems lie, the pandemic amplifies the difficulties of providing effective responses, significantly worsening its impacts.”

According to Marko Monteiro, a professor at Unicamp, who also participates in the project, the report questions the search for ready-made recipes that guide the response to the health crisis caused by the covid-19. “There are no such recipes, and ignoring the particular aspects of each country helps in their failure. Another outstanding issue is the centrality of politics, disputes over power and over meanings, indicators, responses, the role of science, etc., in understanding the success or failure of responses, ”he says. “As in some countries there was a greater consensus on measures, which helped the population to adhere and the consequent positive result, there were contexts, such as in Brazil and the United States, where disputes and disagreements, due to their severity and omnipresence, are a central part of the reason for the perceived failures. ”

Marko Monteiro – Photo: IGE / Unicamp
Marko Monteiro – Photo: IGE / Unicamp
To think that only “good science” in itself convinces populations or authorities about the best ways to act does not explain the real functioning of the countries observed, nor does it function as a guide for public policy, notes the professor at Unicamp. “To understand the role of politics is to realize that together with good science, it is necessary to pay attention to power relations and disputes between those involved, in order to negotiate more robustly the most appropriate policies”, he emphasizes. “In many countries, including Brazil, disagreements took place on all aspects of the disease, from its severity, to the numbers of cases and deaths, reaching ways of treating and mitigating the problems. Understanding this better is a crucial part of preparing for the next crises. ”

Failure
In the study, Brazil was identified as one of the failures in combating the pandemic, alongside the United States.

“The analysis shows that Brazil’s political response to covid-19 was marked by extensive controversy and deep political and partisan divisions, highlighting a kind of duality between state control versus individual freedoms and responsibilities, mobilizing critics of the current federal government, but also inflating supporters of the President of the Republic, who oppose any restrictive measure, against mandatory vaccination, and insist on placing China as responsible for the pandemic ”, points out Gabriela Di Giulio.

According to the FSP professor, throughout 2020 and early 2021, public controversy was evident regarding the different responses to the covid-19 pandemic in the country, ranging from disputes between “vertical” and “horizontal” isolation, around the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, and the political tensions that led Brazil to change its Minister of Health three times, causing extensive and profound damage in the fight against the pandemic. “What we see now, in this second wave of the pandemic, is the political game around vaccines”, he stresses. “As we discussed in a recent article signed by our Brazilian team ( https://www.4sonline.org/the-politics-of-covid-19-vaccines-in-brazil-seeing-through-the-lens-of-sts/), the political spectacle of the ‘vaccine war’ exposed even more the fragility of Brazil internally and externally, putting at risk the continuation of mass vaccination across the country. ”

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