LN – From settlements to informal workers: how the most vulnerable populations are quarantined

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The quarantine, isolation and social distancing declared in the context of the health emergency are not lived in the same way by all people. The socioeconomic context, having support networks, habitat conditions, the type of work, are some determinants Source: LA NACION – Credit: Ricardo Pristupluk

No one is exempt from COVID-19 and compulsory isolation, but not all Argentines have the same resources to face it.

The socioeconomic context, the possibility of having support networks, the conditions of the habitat and the type of work, among other issues, are only some of the determining factors

. According to the references in poverty, health and prison systems consulted by


, the pandemic came to put on the table and deepen long-standing problems, with the enormous risk of enhancing the social segregation of people who, previously, already suffered from a shift in the system.

The doctor Alejandra Sánchez Cabezas, master in Epidemiology, Management and Health Policies and director of the

Furrows civil association

, reflects on how the coronavirus put health at the center of the political and social scene in a very short time. Remember that popular neighborhoods are characterized by their economic instability, difficulties in accessing health services and precarious housing. “If hand washing and social isolation are the two measures par excellence to stop the spread of the virus,

What happens when more than 30% of the population is below the poverty line, lives in overcrowded conditions, does not have alcohol gel and also does not have access to safe water or quality health services?

This situation of vulnerability, in addition to putting themselves at greater risk, has consequences for everyone’s health, “says the doctor.

In this sense, Pablo Bonvehi, head of the Infectious Diseases and Infection Control Section at CEMIC, and member of the Argentine Society of Infectious Diseases (SADI), considers that it will be more difficult to practice quarantine in the most vulnerable socioeconomic levels because they have adequate infrastructure in their homes, and above all, hygiene measures must be reinforced. For this reason, for the infectologist it is key, in this phase of containment, to comply as much as possible with government instructions.

“People have to collaborate. For example, if an older person lives alone and needs help to go shopping, you have to think not only of one but of others and offer help. That is essential.

We are working a lot in the area of ​​health, but also people have to understand that they must be solidary and socially responsible.

Bonhevi points out.

For Sánchez Cabezas, the pandemic invites us “to understand policies from a legal perspective and that the fact that populations suffer health problems differentially should not be indifferent to us.”

“The emergence of COVID-19 should open our eyes to two concepts: that social inequality in Argentina is the cause that some are more likely to get sick and die than others, and that this is everyone’s problem,” says Sánchez Cabezas. .

Overcrowded: when rooms and even beds are shared between several

In Agustoni, one of the Pilar settlements, 2,920 families live, according to the National Register of Popular Neighborhoods.

In recent days, in several of the homes, the coronavirus added to a list of concerns led by the floods that suffered the three closest blocks to the stream that crosses the neighborhood.

“Several of the families live in an overcrowded situation. Last Thursday, 50 woke up flooded. There are some neighbors who are not very aware of the coronavirus because they have many other problems, such as the water that is entering their homes,” says Zoraida Duarte. , one of the inhabitants of Agustoni and a member of the work table formed by the residents promoted by the

NGO Roof.

As occurs in a large number of homes in this settlement -many of which are emergency, built by Techo-, overcrowding is a reality that affects thousands of homes in the country. According to the report on multidimensional poverty 2010-2019, of the Argentine Social Debt Observatory (ODSA) of the UCA, last year 21.6% of households did not have adequate housing; In other words, 2 out of 10, due to their structure or construction materials, did not comply with the basic functions of delimiting spaces, thermal and acoustic insulation, and superior protection against atmospheric conditions.

Within that 21.6%, 7.6% had overcrowding (three or more people per room), 8.9% deficit in the sanitary service (they did not have a bathroom, toilet, mechanical discharge or water carryover) and 14.8% had a precarious infrastructure (they were houses, ranches or houses without plaster on the walls).

On the other hand, according to the latest report of the ODSA Children’s Social Debt Barometer,

23.4% of children and adolescents up to 17 years of age lived in overcrowded conditions in urban regions of Argentina

, a figure that climbs to 30% in the province of Buenos Aires. Having to share a bed with their parents or little brothers is a reality that multiplies in the homes of the lower socioeconomic strata.

For specialists, these habitat characteristics make families especially vulnerable to the spread of diseases, including COVID-19.

Regarding the possibility of complying with one of the key measures for prevention, such as hygiene, Zoraida explains: “The resources that families have are few and now income has dropped more, because most of them work in black. They are going to prioritize eating before buying hygiene products. Unfortunately, shops do not help because they increase prices and it is much more difficult to access them. ”

In the framework of the pandemic, Solange Rodríguez Espínola, a doctor in psychology and a researcher at the ODSA, focuses on another key question that is rarely investigated. “What we observe is that the fact that there is a context with many people around living in a reduced space does not guarantee that one feels that they have certain conditions of assistance or support from others. In socio-residential urban spaces with a higher concentration of population such as villages and settlements, where there are several overcrowded homes, people say they feel less social restraint, “says Rodríguez Espínola.

The psychologist says that when, in a recent study, people were asked how many close friends or relatives they have to face situations of need, 2 out of 10 answered that they did not answer anyone. But, if the lens rests on the most vulnerable socio-environmental areas, where overcrowding is greatest, the number rises to 3 out of 10.

Within the age groups, there are also differences: “Older people report a greater sense of loss of contexts of social support. In this time of crisis, where it is essential to be attentive to the other, in the elderly the feeling of not having support, especially emotional and emotional, “says Rodríguez Espínola.

Overpopulation and poor hygiene conditions, the alarming reality of prisons

Detainees detained in Buenos Aires prisons decided to restrict visits to prevent the proliferation of the coronavirus within the walls
Detainees detained in Buenos Aires prisons decided to restrict visits to prevent the proliferation of the coronavirus within the walls Credit: Courtesy SPF

Overcrowded prisons, with terrible hygiene and health conditions, where, as specialists have been denouncing for decades, there is a systematic violation of the elementary rights of thousands of women and men deprived of their liberty

. This is the general panorama of the penitentiary system in Argentina, which is further aggravated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nicolás Laino, official public defender of the National Ombudsman’s Office (DGN), stresses that the prison population is especially vulnerable to the spread of the virus for various reasons. “Firstly, because the prisons are poorly ventilated in buildings and in many of the prisons there are no individual cells but rather collective pavilions, which are overcrowded. To this we must add that in the Federal Penitentiary Service (SPF), which is where we intervene , the previous government declared a prison emergency a year ago and the current one maintained it, “says Laino.

The defender explains that

in the SPF, there is a 30% overpopulation: it has 14,000 prisoners and a declared capacity of 12,500.

Of these, 55% are prosecuted (they have preventive detention) and 45% are convicted.

“An overcrowded prison means more overcrowding. Furthermore, hygiene elements are scarce. Beyond the fact that the service with the Coronavirus health crisis ordered some measures, in general, for example, soaps are lacking and this makes them even more of a breeding ground “Laino warns.

For the lawyer, another key problem to consider is what would happen once the virus begins to circulate in prisons.

“From the DGN, we have been marking the deficiencies of the health system in prisons for years. Many times there is a lack of specialties: for example, pulmonologists. Even if you go to the Ezeiza or Devoto central prison hospitals, the rooms / cells are very stuck. It is difficult to think of generating quarantine spaces there, “he describes.

The existence of a significant number of detainees who have pre-existing illnesses or that they acquired in prison is another aggravating factor. For example, according to data provided by the SPF at the request of the DGN, at the Ezeiza Federal Penitentiary Complex 1, there are 2,400 detained men: of these, more than 400 are considered at risk for chronic diseases. On the other hand, in Unit 19 where the pre-graduation “casitas” are, there are 270 inmates, of whom 30 have risk factors; and in complex II of Marcos Paz, there are 2,600 prisoners and 115 are in particularly vulnerable health.

“Last year, the Ombudsman General, Stella Maris Martínez, passed a resolution urging defenders to raise issues of pre-trial detention. 60% of detainees are not sentenced. Those people, the The Federal Criminal Procedure Code allows them to apply alternative measures before all preventive detention, such as house arrest, electronic monitoring through a bracelet, the obligation to appear to sign, “explains Laino.

“Now, with the coronavirus,” she continues, “the defender reinforced that request to the defenders and recommended that we take corrective habeas corpus actions to end a situation of worsening detention conditions.

For example, if someone is overcrowded or is not being guaranteed their right to health. ”

In the Buenos Aires prison service the situation is even more critical and even the police stations have collapsed. There are about 49,000 prisoners when the capacity is for 22,000 or 24,000, depending on how it is measured.

The defender before the Supreme Court of Justice of the province of Buenos Aires (SCBA), Mario Coriolano, explains that for years they have been pointing at closed centers, police stations and jails

the existence of a humanitarian crisis.

“It is an expression that was not given the importance it has: it is a situation where people die and no measures are taken to prevent it. Now we are facing a pandemic that in the context of overcrowding is showing the consequences of not taking measures to time, “says the defender.

Stresses that in recent days, in light of the pandemic,

the authorities of the province of Buenos Aires and the Nation issued a series of resolutions, such as action protocols

. “What worries me is that all of this is accomplished. There must be a crisis committee with the heads of the responsible institutions: the judges of all instances, prosecutors, public defense, the ministries of Security and Justice, and the fundamental role of non-governmental organizations to point out non-compliance and make the adjustments that must be made, “warns Coriolano.

On the other hand, it stresses that health protection in the context of confinement cannot imply the restriction of rights, such as transitory exits. “It is essential that the measures taken enhance rights and restrict them, aggravating the situation. For example, in the case of transitory exits, instead of suspending them as was done, I consider that for those people who have been leaving and entering prison long ago, it should have been transformed into a home prison, “says the defender.

As for the visits,

in the majority of the penitentiary units, it was the same detainees who were self-limiting to protect themselves and their visitors.

Informal workers: when you live daily and telework is not an option

In economic and labor terms, the establishment of the mandatory quarantine does not mean the same for everyone. At one extreme is a segment of the population that works in a dependency relationship or is a self-employed person and has the possibility of continuing to carry out their tasks from their homes. In the other, a significant percentage of people live these days of pandemic with the anguish and uncertainty of not knowing how they and their families will be able to survive.

They are unregistered workers, dependent in most cases on a daily wage that only comes when there is work.

This is the case of Fernando Agüero, 31, who lives with his wife and three children in Villa Zagala, in a rented house. For three years, he has been working as a painter’s assistant and earns a day. “We had started a painting job in one house, but the client called us to suspend the work. Later we were going to get in front of another house but they called to cancel. I am desperate,” he laments in a broken voice. And he continues: “I do not know how I am going to do to pay the rent. My wife does not work. We have the AUH, but it is not enough. I do not know what else to do in the meantime because everything is stopped.”

Far from being the exception, unregistered employment is the reality that most of the country’s poor families must face. As it is an invisible segment for statistics, the number of informal workers is a variable figure according to the source.

María Eugenia Sconfienza, Conicet researcher and president of the

Work Culture Foundation


It estimates that there are 35% of informal workers in a dependency relationship, that is, that we must also add the segment of informal self-employed workers.

“It is a universe that for Anses does not exist. Inside there are very different realities, of course, but all of them and even the whole population in general is crossed today by the fear of unemployment. Other countries have programs unemployment that provide social protection and a minimum income that gives them a floor with which to subsist. Here what there is is aimed at the registered population, “says the specialist.

How, then, to reach this segment of the population that needs state protection more than ever? Sconfienza explains that some ways to get there are through the AUH, retirement and pensions, and even with some subsidies to NGOs and movements that have canteens or provide some other type of assistance. “Some of the most recent measures of the Ministry of Social Development aim to promote employment and self-employment, offering credits for the purchase of tools or for the refurbishment of homes, so that they do not lose the possibility of making changas. But In a context of economic paralysis like the one installed with this pandemic, it will be very difficult even with these measures, “he adds.

Within this desperate scenario, the most serious situation is that suffered by unregistered workers over 45 and those who have children over 18, because they are outside the umbrellas of the AUH and the retirement system, the main forms of social assistance.

For referents, the main challenge is to find indirect ways of reaching them. In principle, to provide them with some type of rescue that allows them to survive. Once the worst is over, to empower and accompany them on the path to job placement. A path in which they are always the last in line.

Community kitchens: the priority of responding to hunger

Some of the children who attend the All for Boys dining room, in the Loyola neighborhood, in San Martín
Some of the children who attend the All for Boys dining room, in the Loyola neighborhood, in San Martín Source: LA NACION – Credit: Daniel Jayo

The establishment of the mandatory quarantine is very worrying and distressing to Luis Gómez, general coordinator of the community canteen and picnic area for the boys, located in the Loyola neighborhood of San Martín, which provides assistance to some seventy families in the area.

“I understand about the virus, but people are hungry,” explains Luis.

Even so, it ensures that they do not receive any type of subsidy. And he doubts that things will change due to the emergence of the coronavirus. A few days ago, the Nation’s Ministry of Social Development ordered a set of measures to reinforce food and social emergency policies.

The agency announced that food assistance to school and community canteens will be strengthened and the card distribution system will be temporarily modified. “In general terms, there are eight million people who receive food assistance in Argentina. About three million boys eat in schools and the rest in dining rooms and picnic areas.

For this reason, we have expanded the budget lines to face this situation and move towards a food system that respects the prevention of social distancing, “said Daniel Arroyo, Minister of Social Development, recently.

At the moment, the 14 people who run the dining room say they feel very alone, doing a huge job. “Here we don’t just feed them. We also give them clothes when they donate to me. There are mothers who come to ask us for soaps so we can wash their children’s hands. With the virus issue, we are talking a lot to families, because not everyone They have the same level of awareness regarding prevention and do not know what to do. Now we give the food in tuppers, and we tell them not to all come at the same time, not to be on top, “adds Gómez.

Dependence on private donations is something that has him very restless. “A lot of humble, hardworking people donate to us. And if this activity is cut off from the virus, how are they going to continue donating? I have some reserves, but I will not be able to subsist for a long time,” he expresses concern. .

In the area of ​​Buenos Aires, sources from the Ministry of Human Development and Habitat reported on a series of measures to guarantee the operation of the 470 community canteens and the 75 Early Childhood Centers that the City has. Some of them contemplate the provision of cleaning kits and the provision of food or food bags.

But the economic and social emergency situation that COVID-19 installed did not generate, at least for the moment, changes in the type of state assistance that Estela Gauto receives for the humble Heart dining room, which she founded twenty years ago in Villa 21- 24 of Barracas. There they offer a snack and dinner to children and adults.

“We continue to receive the same 190 servings and serve 300 people. People still need food. And also, now, with the lack of classes, the boys come at any time to ask us for milk. We have another hundred people on the list of wait, and the list continues to grow, “Estela graphs, explaining what his main emergencies are. As the health situation worsened, they established the delivery of food and try to take hygiene measures with what little they have. “We sent a note to the City Government asking for chinstraps and gel alcohol,” he complains, “but so far we have had no response.”

How to collaborate

  • The dinner room

    For the boys

    receive all kinds of donations. To collaborate, call 4754-5949 or 15-5577-5264. Also through the Banco Provincial savings bank No. 541153/0, in the name of Luis Angel Gómez (CUIL 20-16876263-2; CBU 01400267 03509754115309).

  • To help the dining room

    Humble heart

    You can call Estela’s cell phone (15-5146-4169). Also through the savings bank No. 025-370841 / 3 of Banco Santander in the name of María Estela Gauto González (CBU 0720025088000037084136).



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