Category Archives: Coronavirus

Almost half of Myanmar risks falling into poverty by 2022: UNDP

Women and children are likely to feel the brunt of a steep increase in poverty caused by COVID-19 and February's military coup, according to the United Nations Development Programme [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]
Women and children are likely to feel the brunt of a steep increase in poverty caused by COVID-19 and February’s military coup, according to the United Nations Development Programme [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the instability following a military coup in February, could plunge almost half of Myanmar’s population into poverty, reversing economic gains made over the last 16 years, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“The ongoing political crisis will, doubtless, further compound the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, reducing incomes,” the UNDP said in a report (PDF) published on Friday.

In the organisation’s worst-case scenario, 48.2 percent of Myanmar’s population, the equivalent of about 26 million people, could be living in poverty by 2022, compared with 24.8 percent in 2017, the UNDP said.

The agency defines Myanmar’s national poverty line as those living below 1,590 kyats ($1) a day in 2017 terms.

The political crisis is likely to affect small businesses acutely, resulting in lost wages and a drop in access to food, basic services and social protection, according to the UNDP.

Women bearing the brunt

As a result, it is women and children who are expected to bear the heaviest brunt of the two crises.

“The effects of COVID-19, amplified by the effects of the overthrow of the civilian government, are likely to lead to a disproportionate increase in urban poverty.

“This is related to the fact that urban areas, where most of the income-generating activities of the near poor are, have been ground zero for the pandemic and the focus of the most severe crackdowns,” the report’s authors wrote.

Even before recent events, one-third of Myanmar’s people were living “on low levels of consumption that put them at risk of falling into poverty”, the agency said.

More than 83 percent of households have reported a drop in income since the start of 2020, according to the UNDP.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis on February 1 when the military arrested elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the ruling National League for Democracy and took power for themselves. The coup triggered a civil disobedience movement and mass protests around the country to which security forces have responded with increasing violence.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an advocacy group that has been tracking arrests and deaths, says 759 people have been killed since Aung San Suu Kyi’s government was removed. Its records show 3,461 in detention.

Food concerns

Myanmar has reported 142,800 cases of COVID-19 with 3,209 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins University. New daily cases have fallen sharply since the start of the year.

The UN’s food agency said last month that rising food and fuel prices in Myanmar since the coup risk undermining the ability of poor families to feed themselves.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said food prices were rising, with palm oil 20 percent higher in some places around the main city of Yangon since the beginning of February and rice prices up 4 percent in the Yangon and Mandalay areas since the end of February.

Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, controls large parts of the country’s economy, with interests in Myanmar’s mobile phone system, tourism, food and beverage sector and its lucrative precious stone mining industry. Foreign investors, including global clothing brands which have used Myanmar as a source of cheap labour, have also been reassessing their involvement in the country, likely putting further pressure on the economy and its workers.

https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/4/30/almost-half-of-myanmar-risks-falling-into-poverty-by-2022-undp

Dispute over COVID-19 deaths pits indigenous Brazilians against gov’t

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Indigenous Leader Sonia Guajajara of the Guajajara tribe looks on after meeting with the parliamentary front in defense of the rights of indigenous people at the chamber of deputies in Brasilia, Brazil February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

RIO DE JANEIRO, – The government agency created to protect Brazil’s indigenous people is out to destroy them, a prominent native leader said on Thursday after Funai asked the police to investigate her for fake news.

Police subpoenaed Sonia Guajajara, head of Brazil’s largest indigenous coalition APIB, at the request of the native affairs agency Funai, after she accused the government of genocide for not protecting indigenous people from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Bolsonaro’s Funai does not recognize the indigenous movement, and has no dialogue with those who diverge from the government’s position”, Guajajara said, referring to right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been in office since 2019.

“They want to end the indigenous culture in the country once and for all,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Funai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agency said in its submission to the police that it had invested 26 million reais ($4.9 million) to fight the pandemic in indigenous lands, including distributing food and setting up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands.

Funai was set up in 1967 to coordinate and implement government policies to protect the indigenous population, especially isolated and recently contacted people.

That function has been curtailed under Bolsonaro who has criticized indigenous people for having too much reservation land and advocates commercial mining on their lands. Bolsonaro named a policeman, Marcelo Xavier, to run the agency.

“Inside Funai there are many serious civil servants who are trying to do a job that corresponds to the interests of indigenous peoples,” said Guajajara.

“But Funai’s management no longer serves those interests.”

INTIMIDATION

Funai asked that the police investigate Guajajara last week for “perfidy and the crime of slander” because of APIB’s documentaries about the lethal impact of the government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis on native people.

“The biased content of fake news … reveals serious illegality. Although possible criticism is tolerated, what in fact happened was an authentic abuse of freedom of expression,” Funai wrote in its submission.

On Wednesday, a judge halted the police probe into Guajajara, saying in court documents that its main goal was to “silence political demonstrations” by APIB.

Funai is not the only government agency under Bolsonaro to be accused of turning against indigenous people that it is mandated to protect.

Sesai, the agency responsible for providing medical care to indigenous people, has come under fire for allegedly underreporting COVID-19 deaths.

While Sesai reports about 663 deaths due to COVID-19 among indigenous people, a tally by APIB shows 1,063 fatalities among the country’s 900,000 native people.

“When the pandemic started, it exposed how bad indigenous health was,” said Eriki Paiva from the Terena peoples in the centre-west state of Mato Grosso do Sul, one of the groups with the most deaths, according to APIB’s data.

“It saddens us that beyond not doing the basics, they have now used intimidation tactics against our leaders.”

Sesai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Funai has also rejected APIB’s tally.

“(The) data presented was inflated, with the intent to manipulate, almost doubling the number of deaths among indigenous people,” Funai wrote in its submission to the police.

Cristiane Juliao, a leader of the Pankararu people in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, dismissed Funai’s claim that it set up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Funai’s presence basically involved the delivery of a basic food baskets,” she said, adding her tribe set up the barriers and Funai provided equipment, transport and funding for a short while and then vanished.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210506175032-l691x/

Catholic groups work to feed Brazilians affected by job loss, COVID-19

People in need receive food aid in São Paulo April 14 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Carla Carniel)
People in need receive food aid in São Paulo April 14 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Carla Carniel)

Sao Paulo — As unemployment increases and COVID-19 infections surge in the country, Catholic entities in Brazil are ramping up efforts to feed the increasing number of people going hungry.

“The pandemic did not only affect those who live on the streets. It has hit even those who have homes,” Fr. Revislande dos Santos Araújo of Our Lady Consolata Parish in Boa Vista, told Catholic News Service.

The priest, who started a social project dubbed Stirring the Pot in 2015 to distribute meals to drug addicts and homeless people, now also serves meals and distributes food to Venezuelan refugees camped on the streets and to Brazilians who lost their jobs.

Back in 2015, the priest cooked and distributed the meals around the neighborhoods of Boa Vista. “In the beginning, 40 meals were made per day, but at the end of the first year, with the help of donations we were distributing 70 meals,” he said.

With the arrival of Venezuelans in 2016, he explained, the initiative became a bigger project.

“We saw that many did not make it into the shelters and set up camp around the main bus station. They often did not have food to eat, so we extended our Stirring the Pot to help them, too,” he said. “With the pandemic, we offer 1,200 to 1,500 meals per day for those who live on the streets.”

In addition to the homeless and refugees, he said, his parishioners, people with very little means, are also suffering.

“We live in a poor area; our parishioners are poor people. The majority are construction workers, cleaning ladies, etc. With the pandemic, these people lost their jobs. There was a huge increase in poverty and people frequently do not have enough to eat — something that before [the pandemic] we did not see often,” he said.

“For the Venezuelans who live in tents near the bus station, we send meals, while, for the Brazilian families, we send them food packages, so they can cook at home,” he told CNS.

However, donations are decreasing.

“Those who used to donate a kilo of beans, a kilo of rice, now are asking for donations. I try to reach out, doing live events on the internet asking for help, but there are many of my parishioners who used to help and now no longer can because they are finding it hard to put food on the table themselves,” he said.

Araújo, who teaches at the city’s public schools, recalled more than one of his students reaching out to him saying, “‘My mom has lost her job, we don’t have enough to eat at home.'”

The dwindling number of volunteers and donations are also seen in other parts of Brazil. Now, a campaign promoted by the São Paulo Archdiocese along with the charitable aid agency Caritas not only aims to collect money and food for the vulnerable but also to encourage new volunteers to step up and contribute.

“Despite the solidarity, things are getting more difficult. The people who helped are now out of a job,” said Father Marcelo Maróstica Quadro, Caritas director and pastoral coordinator of the Belém region in São Paulo.

The campaign, dubbed Animating Hope, plans to collect food and financial resources to purchase food baskets to distribute to vulnerable families.

“Hunger is a reality that goes against God’s plan,” said Quadro.

He said Caritas has mapped out 450 “points of hope,” where it collects and distributes meals and food baskets. Most of the parishes around São Paulo serve as points of hope.

At the beginning of the pandemic, he said, St. Joseph Parish distributed 40-50 food baskets per month. “Now we distribute more than 300,” he added.

With unemployment rising and food insecurity increasing, the archdiocese, through Caritas, also created a Committee to Fight Hunger and introduced a number of actions to mobilize and unite parishes and parishioners.

“There are a lot of people suffering. Let us help. Let us reach out as best as we can so that these people do not have so much suffering,” Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer said during his weekly radio show.

Other entities linked to the Catholic Church have also stepped up to help. The Brazil branch of AVSI, a Milan-based organization founded on Catholic social teaching, has run three separate programs to deal with the issue: two food basket campaigns and now a program offering meal vouchers for 500 families whose children attended a day care center funded by AVSI. With the schools closed, these children are unable to eat breakfast and lunch at the center.

“We are now trying to get the day care center reopened, because many of those children depended on those meals,” said Fabrizio Pellicelli, president of AVSI in Brazil.

Situations like these are repeated throughout the country.

“In a country like ours, everything that is planted grows,” said Quadro. “There shouldn’t be a reason for our people to go hungry. There is a lack of policies by the government to reduce food insecurity in this country.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/coronavirus/catholic-groups-work-feed-brazilians-affected-job-loss-covid-19

COVID won’t respect borders – UN urges divided world to unite

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

NEW YORK, – The United Nations on Thursday urged a divided world to unite against a virus that ignores all borders, saying the pandemic could delay by a decade its goal to end global inequalities.

A new U.N. report estimated that the novel coronavirus has unleashed the worst recession in 90 years, threatening to derail its ambitious list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The goals, approved in 2015 with a 15-year deadline, aim to end hunger, gender inequality and violence against women, while expanding access to education and health care in poorer nations.

“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a statement.

“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis.”

An estimated 114 million jobs have been lost worldwide, and about 120 million people have sunk back into extreme poverty as the virus circles the globe, the report found.

The U.N. said the economic devastation has widened “already yawning” inequities, with the chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots mirrored in the vaccine rollout.

Of $16 trillion distributed in relief, only 20% was spent in developing countries, the report found, and all but nine of the 38 countries administering vaccines were developed nations.

It called on nations to contribute an estimated $20 billion to vaccinate poorer nations this year, and urged richer members to offer developing nations debt relief, investment – and hope.

“Countries must be helped to not only stay afloat financially, but to invest in their own development,” U.N. Under Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said in a statement.

It is not the first time the U.N. has said development goals are at risk in a pandemic that has prioritized short-term survival over long-term aspirations.

But the warning has taken on new urgency as cross-border rows erupt over the fairest way to vaccinate the whole world, with some countries accused of abandoning common cause to safeguard their home front.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210325174645-xw5k2/

Vatican COVID-19 commission: Church can help combat rising violence against women

Credit: MikeDotta/Shutterstock.
Credit: MikeDotta/Shutterstock.

Vatican City, – The Vatican COVID-19 Commission called on Monday for the Catholic Church and governments to increase support for women suffering from violence amid the coronavirus crisis.

In a seven-page document released March 8, International Women’s Day, the commission said that the pandemic had “increased the vulnerability of countless women across the globe.” 

The text, entitled “Women in the COVID-19 Crisis: Disproportionately Affected and Protagonists of Regeneration,” said that domestic violence had risen during pandemic-related lockdowns. 

The commission asked governments to provide “safe spaces and services for those facing domestic violence.”

It also encouraged the Church to “denounce direct and systemic violence against women.”

The document suggested that an effective way to do this would be for Church leaders to back an appeal by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for a domestic violence “ceasefire.” 

It also said that “messages countering violence against women could be encouraged in homilies and in catechesis.”

Domestic violence incidents rose by 8.1% in the United States following lockdown orders, according to a Feb. 23 report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.

Pope Francis dedicated the month of February to prayer for women suffering from violence. 

In a video released Feb. 1, he said: “It is shocking how many women are beaten, insulted, and raped … We must not look the other way.”

Pope Francis asked the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to create the Vatican COVID-19 Commission on March 20, 2020. Working with other curial departments and outside organizations, the commission seeks “to express the concern and love of the Church for the whole human family in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The body, unveiled on April 15, 2020, consists of five working groups, which focus respectively on “acting now for the future,” “looking to the future with creativity,” “communicating hope,” “seeking common dialogue and reflections,” and “supporting to care.”

A note said that the new document was “elaborated by the four different taskforces of Working Group 2,” which tackles topics related to ecology, economics, labor, healthcare, politics, communications, and security. 

“While women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, they have been excluded from much of the COVID-19 decision-making in many countries, largely due to enduring underrepresentation in senior positions in key fields of medicine and politics,” the text said.

“This may have contributed to the lack of explicit attention paid to the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impacts on women and girls.”

“Countries with women leaders, however, have generally fared better overall during the pandemic. These leaders approached the crisis in a similar way: they consulted early with health experts and implemented containment measures early.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-covid-19-commission-church-can-help-combat-rising-violence-against-women-95019

Africans slam rich nations for blocking access to generic COVID vaccines

A health worker receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

NAIROBI, – Charities in Africa slammed rich nations on Thursday for blocking efforts to waive patents for COVID-19 vaccines, saying this would prolong the pandemic for years in poorer nations and push millions across the continent deeper into poverty.

More than 40 charities, including Amnesty International and Christian Aid, said Wednesday’s move by Western nations to prevent generic or other manufacturers making more vaccines in poorer nations was “an affront on people’s right to healthcare.”

Peter Kamalingin, Oxfam International’s Africa director, said sub-Saharan Africa – 14% of the global population – had received only 0.2% of 300 million vaccine doses administered worldwide.

“Ensuring every African can get a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine … is the most effective way to save lives and livelihoods, keep our children in school, reduce unemployment rates and re-open our economies,” he told a news conference.

“Without it, gains made by African countries on issues of food security, democratic governance, gender justice and women’s rights will be reversed completely.”

Richer members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) blocked a push by some 80 developing countries – led by India and South Africa – to waive its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement rules on patents.

The move sent a message that African lives were less important than those of people in rich nations, Kamalingin said.

Countries such as the United States and Britain argue that protecting intellectual property rights encourages research and innovation, and that suspending those rights would not result in a sudden surge of vaccine supply.

Africa’s confirmed coronavirus caseload is almost 4 million, with more than 100,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

While Africa accounts for less than 4% of the 118 million cases and 2.6 million deaths recorded globally, health experts say a lack of testing and reliable data from many African nations means the true figures may be far higher.

The World Bank estimates that the new coronavirus crisis has already pushed 40 million people in sub-Saharan economies into extreme poverty, that is, living on less than $1.90 a day.

Africa needs equitable access to vaccines to prevent further lockdowns, job losses and school closures, said the charities, which included the Pan-African Fight Inequality Alliance and the East Africa Tax and Governance Network.

“Without the vaccine, the pandemic will be prolonged on the continent. Africa will be in a pandemic state for the next four or five years,” warned Mwanahamisi Singano, programme manager from the African Women’s Development and Communication Network.

“If we don’t have the vaccine, we are extending the pandemic phase and all the evil that we have seen come with it.”

Western nations have celebrated the COVAX facility – a World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine-sharing programme to aid developing nations – which has so far delivered approximately 2 million doses to a handful of African countries.

But the charities said COVAX was far from an acceptable solution as it would only result in 20% of the population in those countries being vaccinated by the end of the year.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210311152316-1wx8m/

COVID won’t respect borders – UN urges divided world to unite

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

NEW YORK, – The United Nations on Thursday urged a divided world to unite against a virus that ignores all borders, saying the pandemic could delay by a decade its goal to end global inequalities.

A new U.N. report estimated that the novel coronavirus has unleashed the worst recession in 90 years, threatening to derail its ambitious list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The goals, approved in 2015 with a 15-year deadline, aim to end hunger, gender inequality and violence against women, while expanding access to education and health care in poorer nations.

“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a statement.

“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis.”

An estimated 114 million jobs have been lost worldwide, and about 120 million people have sunk back into extreme poverty as the virus circles the globe, the report found.

The U.N. said the economic devastation has widened “already yawning” inequities, with the chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots mirrored in the vaccine rollout.

Of $16 trillion distributed in relief, only 20% was spent in developing countries, the report found, and all but nine of the 38 countries administering vaccines were developed nations.

It called on nations to contribute an estimated $20 billion to vaccinate poorer nations this year, and urged richer members to offer developing nations debt relief, investment – and hope.

“Countries must be helped to not only stay afloat financially, but to invest in their own development,” U.N. Under Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said in a statement.

It is not the first time the U.N. has said development goals are at risk in a pandemic that has prioritized short-term survival over long-term aspirations.

But the warning has taken on new urgency as cross-border rows erupt over the fairest way to vaccinate the whole world, with some countries accused of abandoning common cause to safeguard their home front.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210325174645-xw5k2/

Pope Francis: ‘Experience Lent with love’ by caring for those affected by pandemic

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta April 4, 2020. Credit: Vatican Media.
Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta April 4, 2020. Credit: Vatican Media.

Vatican City, – Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to practice charity in Lent this year by caring for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

In his message for Lent 2021, the pope asks people to “experience Lent with love,” which “rejoices in seeing others grow.”

“To experience Lent with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In these days of deep uncertainty about the future, let us keep in mind the Lord’s word to his Servant, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you’ (Isaiah 43:1). In our charity, may we speak words of reassurance and help others to realize that God loves them as sons and daughters,” Pope Francis wrote in the message published Feb. 12.

The pope emphasized that even a small amount of almsgiving when offered with “joy and simplicity” can multiply, as did “the loaves blessed, broken and given by Jesus to the disciples to distribute to the crowd.”

“Love is a gift that gives meaning to our lives. It enables us to view those in need as members of our own family, as friends, brothers or sisters. A small amount, if given with love, never ends, but becomes a source of life and happiness,” he said.

The pope’s Lenten message centers on the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Pope Francis signed the message, entitled “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem. Lent: A Time for Renewing Faith, Hope, and Love,” on Nov. 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours, in Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica.

The liturgical season of Lent will begin this year with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 17. The Vatican has instructed priests to distribute ashes by silently sprinkling them on people’s heads this year due to the pandemic.

Pope Francis said that the theological virtue of hope is particularly important as the world continues to grapple with the effects of the pandemic.

“In these times of trouble, when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope. Yet Lent is precisely the season of hope, when we turn back to God who patiently continues to care for his creation which we have often mistreated,” he said.

“St. Paul urges us to place our hope in reconciliation: ‘Be reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20). By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others.”

The pope said that one can give hope to others by being kind, sharing the “gift of a smile” or speaking a word of encouragement. 

“In Lent, may we be increasingly concerned with speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn,” he said.

He added: “Through recollection and silent prayer, hope is given to us as inspiration and interior light, illuminating the challenges and choices we face in our mission. Hence the need to pray (cf. Matthew 6:6) and, in secret, to encounter the Father of tender love.”

“To experience Lent in hope entails growing in the realization that, in Jesus Christ, we are witnesses of new times, in which God is ‘making all things new’ (cf. Revelation 21:1-6). It means receiving the hope of Christ, who gave his life on the cross and was raised by God on the third day, and always being ‘prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls [us] to account for the hope that  is in [us]’ (1 Peter 3:15).”

In a Vatican press conference discussing the pope’s Lenten message, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said that Pope Francis weaved together the traditional Lenten practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving with the three theological virtues, revealing their interconnectedness. 

Turkson said that it was particularly important during the pandemic to be rooted in the practice of prayer to cultivate the theological virtue of hope, which can give one a sense of “vision” when confronted with the world’s problems.

Msgr. Bruno Marie Duffé, secretary of the dicastery, commented: “Fasting opens our spirit, body and whole being to the gift of God. By breaking with an egocentric, egotistical lifestyle and excessive, even compulsive consumption … we consent to live a poverty that is an openness to others and to God. And we receive a love that comes to us from the Father and from Christ.”

“Fasting, therefore, consists in freeing our existence from what encumbers it, from the overload of things, useful and useless, from true or false information, from the habits and dependencies that bind us, to open the door of our hearts and minds to the One who comes to share  our human condition until death: Jesus, the Son of the living God.” 

Pope Francis wrote in his Lenten message that fasting, prayer, and almsgiving “enable and express our conversion.”

“The path of poverty and self-denial (fasting), concern and loving care for the poor (almsgiving), and childlike dialogue with the Father (prayer) make it possible for us to live lives of  sincere faith, living hope and effective charity,” he wrote.

These traditional Lenten practices “revive the faith that comes from the living Christ, the hope inspired by the breath of the Holy Spirit and the love flowing from the merciful heart of the Father,” Francis said.

“May Mary, Mother of the Saviour, ever faithful at the foot of the cross and in the heart of the Church, sustain us with her loving presence. May the blessing of the risen Lord accompany all of us on our journey towards the light of Easter.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-lent-2021-message-experience-lent-with-love-by-caring-for-those-affected-by-pandemic-19056

In Brazil’s Amazon, indigenous people fear surge in COVID-19 deaths

A gravedigger buries Joao Castro, 64, an indigenous man of the Satere Mawe ethnicity, after he passed away due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Parque Taruma cemetery in Manaus, Brazil, January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

RIO DE JANEIRO, – With hospitals overflowing and oxygen supplies running low, indigenous leader Joilson Karapana fears a second wave of COVID-19 deaths in the Brazilian city of Manaus could prove even more devastating for his tribal community.

When the coronavirus pandemic swept the Amazon metropolis last year, several of Karapana’s close relatives and members of his 50-strong tribe died from the disease and more have recently fallen ill.

“I lost my brother, my father, my cousin, my aunts and other people I knew,” said Karapana, whose community lives in Parque das Tribos – an indigenous urban settlement of about 3,000 people in hard-hit Manaus, capital of Amazonas state.

“Now we have about five or six people short of breath, with pain all over their bodies. It’s a worrying situation,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Brazil’s Air Force flew oxygen cylinders into the jungle city last week as desperate relatives protested outside hospitals, saying patients had been taken off ventilators as oxygen supplies ran out.

Some of the sick were airlifted to other states as locals scrambled to buy oxygen on the black market to help their loved ones, according to media reports.

For the roughly 30,000 indigenous people who live in Manaus and rely on public healthcare, the situation is especially alarming, said Marcivana Satere-Mawe, head of the Coordination of Indigenous Peoples in Manaus and Surroundings (Copime).

“If we have to buy oxygen for our elders to survive, they will die. We have no income,” Marcivana said by phone.

The city’s government and the SESAI service, which provides health services in indigenous reservations, did not reply to a request for comment.

Amazonas’s government gave its first COVID-19 vaccine shot on Monday to an indigenous nurse in Parque das Tribos, saying frontline health workers and indigenous people in reservations would be the priority for vaccinations, a statement said.

‘MORE DIFFICULT EACH DAY’

Brazil has registered 210,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University, the second-highest toll after the United States.

The dead include 926 indigenous people, according to a tally by the indigenous umbrella organization APIB.

Grim headlines from Manaus mean some indigenous people living in reservations in the surrounding forest are unwilling to be taken to the city if they fall sick, preferring to take their chances with rudimentary local care.

“We had a case of an indigenous woman here with COVID, but she’s being treated here” said Maria Alice da Silva Paulino, an indigenous teacher at Yupiranga Village, near Manaus.

“She didn’t want to be transferred because of the deaths, the lack of oxygen.”

Sahu da Silva, a leader of the Sahu-Ape indigenous community near Manaus, said the only option was to treat people locally and hope for the best.

He said three members of his tribe were currently sick with COVID-19 symptoms.

“Whenever one gets better, another one falls ill,” he said. “We are in this fight, (but) it’s getting more difficult each day.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210119160425-37e03/

Holy Spirit sister who survived COVID-19 donates plasma to save others

Holy Spirit Sr. Sneha Joseph donates her plasma at the government-managed Nair Hospital in Mumbai, capital of the western Indian state Maharashtra. (Provided photo)
Holy Spirit Sr. Sneha Joseph donates her plasma at the government-managed Nair Hospital in Mumbai, capital of the western Indian state Maharashtra. (Provided photo

MUMBAI, INDIA — Though she is a hospital administrator and nurse in western India who once trained nurses in the South Sudan during ethnic fighting, a Catholic nun’s worst fear about getting COVID-19 was going on a ventilator.

“I was certain that once I was put on the ventilator I would not survive. I would visualize how I was going to die,” said Holy Spirit Sr. Sneha Joseph, remembering a harrowing incident waking up after her appendectomy years earlier, intubated and gasping for breath.

But when she caught the virus, she not only escaped the ventilator, she survived after 18 days of treatment and ended up donating convalescent plasma to try to save the lives of coronavirus patients. “There was an inner voice that urged me to donate plasma,” she said.

Joseph was honored Nov. 1, 2020, as a COVID-19 Warrior by the governor of Maharashtra state at his residence in Mumbai, the state capital.

“I am proud of you. Thank you for your selfless service to society,” Gov. Bhagat Singh Koshyari told Joseph while presenting the member of the Missionary Sisters, Servants of the Holy Spirit a letter recognizing her “exemplary service.”

The governor, who is the Indian president’s representative in the state, pointed out that Joseph has inspired many COVID-19 survivors to donate blood to treat other patients.

The Warrior award program was organized by Spandan (heartbeat) Arts, a local nongovernmental organization, along with Ashish Shelar, a legislator in the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party.

Joseph donated her blood for the fifth time Dec. 9, in what news reports called a first for a female donor. “I still want to donate [blood], however, doctors advised me to wait,” the 57-year-old nun told Global Sisters Report in November after her fourth donation.

Joseph, who has a master’s degree in nursing, is currently the chief executive officer of the Holy Spirit Hospital, a multispecialty tertiary care institution her congregation manages at Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai.

The nun donates plasma only to poor COVID-19 patients in Nair Hospital and Medical College, a government-managed institution in Mumbai.

Ramesh S. Waghmare, a doctor and associate professor of the blood bank at Nair Hospital who facilitated Joseph’s blood donation, defines plasma therapy as a medical procedure that uses the blood of a recovered patient to create antibodies in those infected.

As part of the procedure, plasma, the fluid part of blood containing antibodies, is separated and transfused into a COVID-19 patient’s body. “This procedure has not been officially approved as an effective measure to treat COVID-19 patients. But it has shown positive results in our hospital,” Waghmare told GSR over the phone.

The doctor said his hospital conducts “guided plasma therapy” on COVID-19 victims with convalescent plasma from recovered patients such as Joseph as part of a clinical trial.

“We transfuse two units of 200 milliliters [6.76 ounces] each on a patient in two successive days and our results so far have been successful,” Waghmare explained.

The doctor lauded Joseph for donating plasma multiple times when other survivors have been reluctant to support the trial even once.

The Catholic nun, he added, has expressed willingness to assist them in the trial by giving her plasma unconditionally. “We are all indebted to her,” he said.

Joseph, however, believes that it was God’s plan to let her contract the disease so that she could gain new insights into her religious life and her desire to serve impoverished people.

She had her fears when she became ill, as the disease is so new.

“When I knew that I had contracted the virus, I was scared and thought my end had come,” Joseph recalled.

The nun said she had mentally prepared to die, if that was God’s will. She battled for life in the hospital for 18 days in May. A week after recovery, she was back on duty.

“Now I realize that God had a special purpose in letting me contract COVID-19. Initially, I was disappointed, as people keep away from COVID-19 patients even after they are healed,” she said.

Ursulines of Mary Immaculate Sr. Beena Devassia Madhavath, who heads the Sister Doctors Forum in India, appreciates Joseph’s “courage and generosity.”

Many people have fears and misconceptions about donating plasma, but Joseph had no problem, says Madhavath, who is also the medical superintendent of Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital. “It is really a humanitarian work,” she told GSR.

Madhavath points out that not everyone can donate plasma. “A woman is eligible only if she has not conceived. Pregnancy leads to cross-reactive antibodies that can cause harm,” she said. (Tests used in Western nations to determine antibody safety in women are largely unavailable in India.)

“It takes at least three hours for donating the blood, and it needs a lot of courage and commitment,” the doctor nun explained. What she admires about Joseph is that the Holy Spirit nun could “spare so much time from her hectic work schedule in her hospital where she does double jobs as an administrator and a nurse.”

Madhavath said all sisters in the country are “really proud that one of us has done a marvelous work for the humanity.”

Joseph credits her religious vocation for paving the way. “If I was not a nun, I would not have been able to donate my plasma. I believe my religious vocation has a special purpose,” she said.

Even though she had heard about plasma therapy, she had no idea how to go about it. One of her colleagues, Pravin Nair, encouraged her to donate.

Joseph fulfills all requirements of a plasma donor. “Generally, one needs an antibody [level] greater than three for donating plasma, but mine was greater than 10,” she said. “My serum protein level also was on the higher side, a good indication for donation.”

Nair hails Joseph as a self-driven person who is committed to helping the poor. “When I informed her about the opportunity and importance of donating plasma, she identified the government hospital and started donation,” said Nair, the head of the microbiology department and infection control at Holy Spirit Hospital.

He added that Joseph always maintains that her mission in life is to serve others, especially poor people in a time of pandemic. She ignored offers from private hospitals and chose the government hospital since poorer patients flock there, he explained.

Some studies say plasma therapy is not useful to treat COVID-19, Nair said, but “treating a virus with antibodies is an effective mechanism in medical science and we believe plasma therapy is useful to treat pandemic virus.”

Another admirer of Joseph is Auxiliary Bishop Allwyn D’Silva of Bombay. “She had a very bad attack and suffered a lot,” said the prelate, who shot a video of the sister donating plasma to encourage others to follow her example.

“It is very rare for a woman to take such a step, but she realized the pain and suffering of COVID-19 patents and that helped her walk the extra mile,” D’Silva told GSR.

The prelate said he has found Joseph to be “a very humble” person. “She does it not for any fame,” he said.

Many others work in Catholic hospitals, but Joseph has become an example not only for Christians but others, too, D’Silva said. “Her life gives us a clear message: What we get, we need to give back.”

Joseph, the youngest among six children in a Catholic family of Kerala, a southwestern Indian state, wonders why her donations have drawn so much attention.

“As a child I had a passion to serve the poor and I grabbed the opportunity to give my plasma for their treatment,” she said. “I want to help only the poor who will not be able to pay for the treatment.”

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/holy-spirit-sister-who-survived-covid-19-donates-plasma-save-others