Two of every three favelas in Brazil are less than 2km from a hospital

A study was published today by the government’s statistics agency IBGE

Published in 19/05/2020 - 16:38 By Ana Cristina Campos - Rio de Janeiro

Brazil has nearly two thirds (64.93%) of irregular communities and occupations located less than two kilometers away from hospitals. Most of these locations (79.53%) are also near—less than one kilometer away—from basic health care stations.

The data, estimated for 2019, were based on the survey Subnormal Agglomerations: Preliminary Classification and Health Data to Tackle COVID-19 (Aglomerados Subnormais: classificação preliminar e informações de saúde para o enfrentamento à Covid-19, in the original Portuguese), published today (May 19) by the government’s statistics agency IBGE, in Rio de Janeiro.

Commonly referred to as favelas, slums, stilt houses, among others, a subnormal agglomeration is defined as any form of irregular occupation of a public or private lot characterized by irregular urban standards, the lack of essential public services, and living restrictions. People living in such communities, the study says, live under precarious socioeconomic, sanitary, and housing conditions.

“We disclosed these figures ahead of time to show the situation in subnormal agglomerations in municipalities and states, since this is where the population is most prone to being infected with the disease caused by the new coronavirus, due to the housing density,” said Mikon Novaes, IBGE’s manager for Land Regionalization and Classification.


A total of 5,127,747 occupied households were estimated to be distributed across 13,151 subnormal agglomerations throughout the country in 2019. These communities were located in 734 municipalities across every Brazilian state, including the Federal District. In 2010, there were 3,224,529 households in 6,329 subnormal agglomerations across 323 cities, as per the last census.

According to the study, of the country’s 13,151 subnormal agglomerations, only 827 (6.29%) were more than five kilometers away from health stations with support for observation and hospitalization. The remainder is located much closer to a hospital.

Cláudio Stenner, IBGE’s coordinator for Geography and the Environment, notes, however, that the research did not investigate whether health units near agglomerations are equipped to care for COVID-19 cases.

“Most subnormal agglomerations is near health care units. In other words, it’s not a matter of how far they are, but rather the poor structure of these units. We don’t know details about them,” he said.

Of the states, Amazonas has the highest proportion of households (34.59%) in irregular settlements. Next come Espírito Santo (26.1%), Amapá (21.58%), Pará (19.68%), and Rio de Janeiro (12.63%). In São Paulo, 7.09 percent of households are in one such location. The country’s most populous state has slightly more than 1 million homes in subnormal agglomerations. The state with the lowest percentage is Mato Grosso do Sul (0.74%).

The sprawling favela of Rocinha, in Rio, is the country’s largest subnormal agglomeration, with 25,742 homes. Next come the community of Sol Nascente, in the Federal District, with 25,441 houses; Rio das Pedras, also in Rio, with 22,509; Paraisópolis, in São Paulo, with 19,262 households in irregular occupations.

IBGE Manager-General Cayo Franco points out that this survey does not show the whole magnitude of the country’s vulnerability, but a significant portion of it. “There are impoverished districts that were not classified as subnormal agglomerations because residents own the land or are served by health care and sanitation services. What we presented here is a dimension of the vulnerability—more specifically the most vulnerable of the vulnerable,” he stated.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Kleber Sampaio

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