Coronavirus could 'wipe out' thousands of people from indigenous tribes in the Amazon

Joe Gamp
Contributor, Yahoo News UK
Charity Survival International says indigenous communities such as the Yanomami tribe, pictured, are at serious risk from COVID-19 due to a lack of equipment and resources. (AP)

Thousands of people belonging to indigenous Amazonian tribes are at risk of being “wiped out” by coronavirus - leading them to call for help from the international community.

Many of Brazil’s 850,000 indigenous people live in remote Amazon areas such as Manaus – with little or no access to healthcare or personal protective equipment (PPE) - prompting indigenous leaders to ask the World Health Organization (WHO) for help in providing equipment unavailable to health workers in tribal reservations and villages.

According to the Articulation of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples (APIB) – an umbrella association representing 305 tribes – deaths from the virus have increasing more than five-fold in the past month.

COVID-19 related deaths among Brazil's indigenous populations rose to 182 by 1 June – a rise of 154 fatalities from 28 instances recorded at the end of April.

And while scientists had hoped the remote locations of indigenous groups may have protected them from infection, the virus is starting to spread through Amazon communities.

Groups such as the Yanomami tribe – which has so far recorded three deaths and dozens of infections from coronavirus – say president Jair Bolsonaro’s government has not included the communities in national plans to fight the virus.

According to charity Survival International, there are growing fears the disease could wipe out thousands of Yanomami people, and devastate many communities who also live in the territory.

Tribal leaders say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s government has not included the communities in national plans to fight the virus. (Reuters)

Dario Yanomami, of the Hutukara Yanomami Association, told the charity: “We are monitoring the COVID-19 disease spreading through our land and are very sad at the first Yanomami deaths.

“Our shamans are working non-stop to counter this xawara (epidemic). We will fight and resist.

“To do this, we need support from the Brazilian people and from the whole world.”

Tribes are calling on the WHO for international assistance in helping fight coronavirus in remote communities. (Reuters)

Amazonian indigenous groups are especially vulnerable to dying if they contract COVID-19 because they often live days away from professional medical help – and do not have access to communication channels such as phone and internet.

Marcos Espinal, director of communicable diseases at the Pan American Health Organisation, said these factors mean health risks are high if people in remote communities transmit the virus.

Speaking to the New Humanitarian, Espinal explained: “Indigenous communities historically have been prone to living in extreme poverty.

An indigenous nurse shows a plant locally known as "Jambu", which is used in indigenous communities to treat pneumonia. (Getty Images)

“They are also prone to have... malnutrition and pre-existing conditions. Other issues are access to supplies, food security, to water and sanitation. Indigenous groups need to be prioritised.”

The written appeal, signed by indigenous leaders and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Sylvester Stallone, asked WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to provide PPE to medics in villages and reservations.