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Favela Communities in Rio Launch App to Combat Fake Covid-19 Information

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Drinking coffee does not prevent you from getting Covid-19 and, no, being contaminated with Covid-19 will not make men infertile. Amid a flood of disinformation about the new coronavirus, community organizations in the Complexo do Alemão (complex of favelas in Rio’s North Zone), have launched, in partnership with the United States Consulate in Rio de Janeiro, a mobile application to help the thousands of residents of the favela communities in the region navigate through what is and what is not fake news.

Voz das Comunidades app helps residents know what is fake and what is true about Covid-19 news, photo courtesy of Voz das Comunidades.

“The first false news we saw was that those in the favela didn’t catch this virus, that it was a rich persons’ virus, that didn’t reach those who live in the favela, that we didn’t get because we already live in precarious situation with lack of basic sanitation, lack of access to water. People thought that here it was not possible to catch this virus. But it is quite the opposite, there are a lot of people catching it and a lot of deaths happening,” says René Silva, founder of Voz da Comunidades, a community newspaper and social media channel that has launched an app to help favela residents during the pandemic.

“With the advancement of coronavirus in the favelas, we realized that there is still a lot of misinformation and false news circulating on social networks. The Voz das Comunidades app arrives at an extremely important moment for favela residents who do not know what to do in this moment of the pandemic,” added Silva.

Since Friday (May 15th), the app reported as fake news that raw garlic and saffron would cure those with the new coronavirus, that Rio de Janeiro governor, Wilson Witzel had prohibited the sale, possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages and that he had removed from hospitals drugs to combat Covid-19 as well as a notion that had spread around the communities that the virus could be eliminated from the body if one were to drink hot water.

“As members of the Rio community, we are committed to helping Rio and Brazil in the fight against Covid-19. We understand that supporting respected voices from the communities themselves in their efforts to share information and prevent the circulation of myths about Covid-19 is an efficient way to respond to one of the most urgent challenges of this pandemic: the spread of the virus among the most vulnerable populations,” said US consul general in Rio Scott Hamilton, in a press release sent out to journalists.

In the Alemão Complex community leaders try to answer residents questions about Covid-19 through mobile application, photo internet reproduction.

With 452 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in favela communities in Rio de Janeiro and 159 deaths registered from the disease as of Saturday night (May 16th), the app also hopes to bring practical information to community residents like the closing of shops and commerce as well as places to take the elderly who are not able to isolate themselves at home.

“The favelas of Rio are suffering from the agglomeration that continue to occur due to the lack of responsibility by some people; and the consequence of this is the increase in cases of people infected by COVID-19. So, remember, social isolation is essential for the return of our activities, if you, can stay at home and do not participate in agglomerations,” said a recent report that appeared in the app.

“Elderly people who are 60 years old or over and live in a small residence with daughters, sons, grandchildren and other family members and have to leave the house daily because they are at risk of being contaminated by coronavirus, can resort to Solidarity Hotel Housing,” says another report.

The mobile application already has three major sections: ‘Ao Vivo’ (Live) delivers fast, real-time information, including alert notifications for urgent news or fake content circulating on social networks.

In this section, there are also the updated numbers of those contaminated by Covid-19 in the favelas, those who died due to the disease and those who recovered. According to the app’s administrators this is possibly the only real data of Covid-19 occurrences in favela communities in Rio, since the official numbers for these vulnerable populations are sub-notified.

Complexo do Alemão favela complex, photo by Matthew Elliott.

“There are many people who have experienced all the symptoms of Covid and have died very quickly, within three to four days, but many of them are not being tested, so they are registering the deaths as other causes, (and) they are not entered in the official Covid data,” said Silva recently to reporters.

‘Facts’ aims to directly combat disinformation, presenting recent news verified by the team of editors with the seal of “truth” or “false”.

The last section, the ‘Newspaper’ has news on prevention, research, support networks, articles by specialists and information guides.

“Voz das Comunidades” is available in Android and iPhone versions and community leaders say that the app has been very successful, with over 8,000 downloads in the first three days alone. They hope that during the first month alone the app will be accessed by up to thirty thousand people, living in at least twenty favelas in Rio de Janeiro.

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