WorldInvisible, covid-19 orphans face the pandemic of pain and helplessness

Invisible, covid-19 orphans face the pandemic of pain and helplessness

Mariza Lima, 36, was teaching preschool children in Careiro Castanho, a city of around 38,000 people in the metropolitan region of Manaus, when covid-19 arrived in Brazil. Mother of a 15-year-old teenager and a 9-year-old girl, she was at the beginning of a twin pregnancy that February 2020. As life grew in Mariza’s belly, with Gabriel and Sophia vying for space, the coronavirus transmission chain continued taking place across the country without being interrupted.

Due to her age and overweight, and given the rise in infections due to a disease still little known, Mariza was called by her sister, a nurse, to spend the last four months of her pregnancy in the capital, where she would be more easily assisted if necessary. But the pandemic, which had signaled a slight improvement at the time, was once again rampant as a result of the gatherings at the end of the year. On Jan. 12, when her babies were two months old, the educator developed symptoms — a week after her sister, 38-year-old Mayra Pires Lima, was diagnosed with the coronavirus. Brazil was terrified of the collapse of the health system in Amazonas: lack of spaces in the ICUs and oxygen to suppress the lack of air that covid-19 caused. After three days in an armchair and 10 in an infirmary, Mariza was transferred to the ICU when a vacancy opened on January 22nd. He died on February 10, leaving behind four children, numerous students and a devastated family.

The tragedy of the orphans in the pandemic caused emotion last Monday (18), when family members of victims of covid-19 went to the CPI of the Pandemic, in the Senate, to tell their stories. Nurse Mayra was among them.

“I had to take my sister to where I worked, because there was no place for her to breathe, there was no place where she had oxygen,” he told the senators. The lack of intensive care was, for Mayra, the reason why her sister did not receive the necessary care to overcome the illness. “It wasn’t lack of oxygen that killed my sister. That worked. But what killed her was the delay in accessing the ICU bed. She needed it immediately, but she spent 10 days in the infirmary, dying”, he recalls in an interview with EL PAÍS.

With her sister’s death, she assumed custody of her nephews. Mayra, who had only one 12-year-old son, suddenly became responsible for four more children. It has donations to help cover the cost of 10 cans of milk a month, which cost more than 500 reais a month, in addition to about 40 diapers a week, another 200 reais a month, according to Mayra. To spend less and stay closer to her family, the responsibility for the children also made her decide to change her address: she will leave Manaus for Careiro Castanho, where the babies are already, waiting for Mayra’s move scheduled for next week. The custody has already been made official, but Mayra plans to file a lawsuit to include her own name on the children’s certificate, keeping that of the biological parents “because that’s part of the story.”

Mayra holds pictures of babies Gabriel and Sophia, children of her sister Mariza, who died of covid-19 this year. Mayra got their guard.Bruno Kelly

Invisible victims

Covid-19 orphans are considered invisible victims of the pandemic due to the lack of data on how many children are in this condition in Brazil. These cases do not impact the numbers of the National Adoption System (SNA) because the children hardly ever leave their families of origin and go to shelters. Most are taken in by family members.

Data from the National Council of Justice even point to a drop in the number of children and adolescents in the SNA during the pandemic. In 2020, there were 33,969 children and adolescents in institutions, 5,040 available for adoption. In 2021, 29,312 children were fostered, 4,216 available for adoption, until September this year.

But a global study by Imperial College, UK, and published in the scientific journal The Lancet in July, it hinted at the seriousness of the problem. The methodology allowed for the creation of a calculator for the orphans of the pandemic. In October, the data was updated and disseminated in a virtual seminar.

It is estimated that 5 million children and adolescents (up to 18 years old) around the world have lost father, mother, both or even a grandfather or grandmother responsible for their creation, since March 2020. “Unfortunately, the increase in cases and deaths results in an increase in the number of orphans. The invisible pandemic of orphanhood around the world will have a serious long-term impact on children of future generations,” said Juliette Unwin, a researcher at the Imperial College School of Health and research co-author, at the event.

In Brazil, the Imperial College tool points out that 168,500 children and teenagers lost their father or mother in the pandemic up to October 12th. The number rises to 194,200 if the grandparents who had custody of the child are considered. Another data available, from the National Association of Natural Persons Registrars (Arpen-Brasil), indicates that 12,211 children up to six years of age were orphaned from March 2020 to September 24 this year. São Paulo, Goiás, Rio de Janeiro, Ceará and Paraná are the states that lead the list of fathers and mothers who died of covid-19 in the period, according to information provided by notary offices.

“There is an invisibility of data”, says Renato Simões, executive coordinator of Associação Vida e Justiça, which fights for the rights of family members and people who have had coronaviruses. “A first initiative is to find out how many and who are the orphaned children of covid-19, because official data do not allow us to have this transparency. It is even difficult to quantify the class and race of the victims, because the data are not notified, let alone if they left children”, he criticizes.

Although the numbers clearly demonstrated the scale of the tragedy about children and adolescents due to the death of their parents in the pandemic, they could not translate the particular dramas of each family. Pedro Hartung, lawyer and coordinator of Instituto Alana’s Absolute Priority Program, recalls that the loss of a family member also impacts income and puts food security at risk. “There is also the impact on mental health, especially in relation to mourning, which is not always fully experienced because of the protocols that were established because of the pandemic”, he says. Psychologist Mayra Aiello, co-founder of the Instituto Doulas de Adoção Brasil, reinforces the psychological damage. “The death of these parents is to lose the reference of life. What these children and teenagers knew as a structure for their lives and development is gone. From then on, a new adult takes over. And that needs some readaptation time”, he explains.

The silenced mourning to take care of the sister

The loss of her father and mother with an interval of just two weeks, in July of this year, took the floor of Giovanna Gomes Mendes da Silva, just 20 years old. She lost the two most important figures in her training. It also lost its sources of family income, and was compelled to assume responsibilities. Vestibulanda, put aside the dream of studying Medicine, locked the course, enrolled in Dentistry —a course for which she had obtained enough grade for approval—, and started college in the second semester of this year. He also assumed custody of his 11-year-old sister.

She was also at the CPI on the Pandemic presenting her report. It even moved the interpreter of the Brazilian Sign Language (Libras), who cried while translating his statement and was replaced by another colleague.

“I usually say that we lived a life of joy with moments of sadness. But today we live a sad life, with one or another thing that makes us happy. My mother was my mother, Juliana’s mother and also mother of many children because she was the articulator of a network that takes care of children’s rights. So, for a long time, she struggled for many stories. This loss went beyond that of family life,” Giovanna told the senators, her voice choked with emotion.

“Me, my parents and my sister were very close. Where they were, we were together. When my parents passed away, we lost the people we loved the most. I saw that I needed my sister and she needed me, I leaned on her and she leaned on me. From there, I saw that I could no longer be without her, just as she could not be without me. So I decided that I wanted to be in custody of her to have the guarantee that she would be with me at all times”, said the young woman when the interpreter was moved.

Giovanna’s parents were from the risk group and had not yet taken the second dose of the vaccine. The complaints of delay in buying doses, raised by the CPI, brought even more pain and indignation to the young woman. The mother had undergone a kidney transplant and was immunosuppressed. The father was dealing with cancer. She says that they must have been contaminated when seeking health care. Now, she and her sister live with their grandparents in São Luís (MA). The plan is to reorganize to go back to live in her parents’ apartment, with her sister, as soon as possible. “We are living our lives, trying to follow through. I don’t think we have to keep remembering, so we don’t get too caught up in the pain. And we want to get out of the pain right away to go to the part of love and longing”, he tells EL PAÍS.

Pension for covid-19 orphans

The CPI report on the Pandemic foresees to unify bills that are being processed in the Senate and the Chamber to propose a pension to the covid-19 orphans. “It is essential that there is a minimum compensation for the large number of deaths in the country — a circumstance resulting, in large measure, from the omissions and actions of public agents in favor of the expansion of contagion by covid-19 in the national territory”, says the document. The values ​​are not clear in the final report of the CPI, but the texts of the Chamber and Senate stipulate from half a minimum wage per child to 1,500 reais a month until they reach adulthood.

In the States, Maranhão approved the Care Aid. It will be 500 reais a month until the age of majority (21 years). In Pernambuco, the Pernambuco Protege Continued Benefit was sanctioned, with payment of 550 reais until reaching adulthood. If entering university, the benefit can be extended up to age 24. In São Paulo, the Government announced the payment of six installments of 300 reais to families in vulnerable situations who lost a family member to covid-19.

“The families that receive guardianship of the child were not preparing to take in new members”, justifies Renato Simões, from Associação Vida e Justiça. “It’s all of a sudden that children appear. These cases are very common when you need financial support to buy diapers, powdered milk and food.”

Simões defends the importance of the pension, but reinforces the need to establish a network of rights protection for these children and adolescents, including guardianship councils, rights councils, mental health policies for lack of mourning and educational and social monitoring policies. “We believe that Brazilian society will take years, decades, to carry out a repair. Because it is not reparation for the most sensitive victims of the pandemic. It is reparation for the Brazilian people”, he defends.

Meanwhile, Giovanna continues with a donation campaign, opened on a website. Mayra says that she receives support from close friends and relatives through donations via Pix.

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