The challenge of living with severe allergies in Brazil
Since I was a child, I have lived with allergies (seafood and peanut). It’s not easy to deal with food allergy in Brazil. There are many challenges, including the lack of public policies and the lack of knowledge about allergies in the general population.
In Brazil, we have a poor legal framework to protect allergic people. The absence of public policies that bring a little comfort and safety to the allergic people is further compromised by the lack of awareness amid civil society. The health professionals, such as first line nurses that conduct triages and doctors on call in emergency care rooms are not prepared to deal with allergies. This challenges our own survival.
Additionally, people at schools are ignorant on the issue; they do not understand the severity of allergic reactions, hence putting our children’s lives at risk. Recently, my sister, who is not allergic, told me that on other day at school, she asked the ingredients of a snack she was purchasing. She was told that they do not know it; that one must eat it to find out the ingredients. It turned out the snack was filled with shrimp. For my sister, it should be an option, but there are many other people that, like myself, are allergic to seafood, and eating that snack would be troublesome. I can just imagine the helplessness of parents of allergic children, worrying all of the time if their children are safe at school.
Another challenge we deal with is how difficult it is to obtain epinephrine, a medicine that treats symptoms of allergic reactions. Some hospitals sell ampoules of epinephrine, but only for health professionals. It is virtually impossible to purchase auto-injectable epinephrine, since it is not available at drugstores in Brazil. We need to import, and it takes more finances and a long time to have access. As a result, parents become almost hostages of a very bureaucratic, expensive and lengthy importation system to be able to obtain the auto injectors. Consequently, Brazilian people with allergies live in constant fear of the future.
It was very recently that food labels were improved in Brazil, thanks to the very hardworking patient organization named “Alergia Alimentar Brasil”. Their activist work resulted in ANVISA, the Brazilian Sanitary Authority, approving the food allergen labeling rule. Now, in Brazil, any of the top allergens or traces of them must be clearly disclosed in processed food labels. This brings a little more comfort and safety to allergic people.
This victory means that we must continue fighting for our rights. We are aware there is still a long road ahead to bring awareness about food allergy. We think we must deal with the difficulties for the well-being of not just allergic people, but for everybody!
By Thiago Dias, 25, allergic to seafood and peanuts
*Testimonial from Alergia Alimentar Brasil http://www.alergiaalimentarbrasil.com.br/