REPORT: Taking responsibility for our own safety and the safety of those we serve

Activity area:

Left: Artur Custódio, National Coordinator, MORHAN

Brazilian culture is strongly linked to physical contact, to touching and hugging, and this is especially important in the context of Hansen’s disease because of the stigma. Most of MORHAN’s activities involve gathering together for lectures and events, and all of these have been interrupted by the pandemic. Under “new normal” conditions, we are learning to smile and kiss with our eyes and shake hands with our elbows.

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Meeting for the founding of a MORHAN group in Santana do Ipanema in the state of Alagoas.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, MORHAN has reviewed its activities daily and adapted at each moment to continue pursuing its objectives as a social movement. We quickly authorized all our groups and volunteers to provide aid in order to help people who were not being assisted by the Brazilian government. We distributed hundreds of food baskets and thousands of masks.

Masks and alcohol gel marked with MORHAN’s logo are made available at face-to-face meetings.

By mid-November 2020, Brazil had recorded more than 5.8 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 160,000 deaths. Many people from former Hansen’s disease colonies were affected, and we know of a few dozen deaths. Among MORHAN volunteers, we had at least ten deaths. We think that most of these lives could have been saved if there had been clear guidelines from the central government and an adequate system to protect the public.

In the absence of governmental guidance and protection, MORHAN developed a set of mandatory guidelines on preventive measures and harm reduction strategies that will allow the gradual reintroduction of our face-to-face activities. Our priority is to protect MORHAN’s network of volunteers and the people affected by Hansen’s disease on whose behalf we work across the country. In line with MORHAN’s mandate as a social movement, these guidelines are a form of resistance against a state that does not protect us and an assertion of our commitment to a principle of mutual care.

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View of the city of Delmiro Gouveia in Alagoas from the window of the Municipal Health Department

We have since condensed the guidelines into a safety protocol. We are fortunate that one of the greatest infectologists in Brazil, Dr. Celso Ramos, agreed to discuss the protocol with us in a video call. He affirmed that our protocol reflects current public health standards and indicated that we had, in fact, perhaps been a bit overzealous in our rule-making. He followed this point, however, with the observation that it would be better to “sin by excess” than to do too little. To facilitate adoption and dissemination of the protocol, we arranged for the creation of explanatory cards and an animated video on YouTube.

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Meeting for the founding of a MORHAN group in Arapiraca in the state of Alagoas, elected board.

We believe that the adoption of this protocol can serve as an example of how to take action with an intent to reduce damage and risks. We have an opportunity to practice solidarity and love now that can stay with us long after the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

Artur Custódio
National Coordinator, MORHAN Movimento de Reintegração das Pessoas Atingidas pela Hanseníase (Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen’s Disease)


NO.101 DECEMBER 2020