Contested leadership and the governance of COVID-19 in Brazil: The role of local government and community activism

Francisco Ortega*, Dominique Behague

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Strong public health governance and leadership driven by scientific evidence, community participation, and attention to social and structural determinants of health are key to effective covid-19 containment. Given the failure of the federal government in Brazil to adopt effective public health measures, state and municipal governments, as well as community activists, have stepped in to fill the void. This essay examines the synergistic role that local governments, public universities, public health institutions and mutual aid initiatives have played in Brazil to advance pandemic control and mitigate the damaging effects of central government policies and neglect. Drawing on literature, media reports, and insights from journalists and activists based in Rio’s favelas, we show how grass roots groups take actions that bear complex and vital relationships with local governments, NGOs, universities, and public health institutions. Effective local public health governance goes beyond technical public health responses and involves strategies for countering chronic marginalisation and disempowerment of local communities which open new pathways for creative intermunicipal collaboration, social change, power redistribution. It remains to be seen if actions and emerging networks at the local level can exert pressure on national government while not further exacerbating the polarising politicisation of the pandemic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-495
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Public Health
Issue number4
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Jan 2022


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