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World Brazil: The coronavirus is hitting indigenous communities hard

11:00  24 may  2020
11:00  24 may  2020 Source:   cnn.com

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Indigenous communities in the Amazon region and elsewhere in Brazil are in danger of being "wiped out" by the coronavirus , according to health experts. Respiratory illnesses - such as those that develop from the influenza virus - are already the main cause of death for native communities .

Tres Unidos, an indigenous village in Brazil 's Amazon rainforest, locked out all visitors, hoping The drama of the 35 families of the Kambeba tribe is repeated in indigenous communities across the Amazon, as the epidemic moves upriver from Manaus, one of the hardest hit cities in Brazil , where

Far from hospitals and often lacking basic infrastructure, Brazil's indigenous people are dying at an alarming rate from Covid-19 with little help in sight.

a person sitting on a boat: Satere-mawe indigenous men navigate the Ariau river during the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic at the Sahu-Ape community, 80 km of Manaus, Amazonas State, Brazil, on May 5, 2020. © RICARDO OLIVEIRA/AFP/AFP via Getty Images Satere-mawe indigenous men navigate the Ariau river during the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic at the Sahu-Ape community, 80 km of Manaus, Amazonas State, Brazil, on May 5, 2020.

The mortality rate is double that of the rest of Brazil's population, according to advocacy group Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) which tracks the number of cases and deaths among the country's 900,000 indigenous people.

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Public health specialists have warned coronavirus could wreak havoc on indigenous groups in countries such as Brazil , Peru and Venezuela. Contact with those miners proved calamitous for the Yanomami: one in five are said to have died during that decade as a result of illness or violence.

APIB has recorded more than 980 officially confirmed cases of coronavirus and at least 125 deaths, which suggests a mortality rate of 12.6 percent -- compared to the national rate of 6.4 percent.

While the Health Ministry's Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health has reported only 695 cases of coronavirus in indigenous communities and 34 deaths, they monitor a smaller group of people -- only those living in traditional villages and registered at local health clinics, and not indigenous people who have moved to towns and cities.

Indigenous people who have moved to larger towns or urban areas in order to study or in search of work can end up in precarious living conditions with few public services, increasing their vulnerability to health issues. Meanwhile, those living in remote areas may not have basic sanitation and health facilities -- a 15-year-old Yanomami boy from a remote village in the Amazon was one of the first indigenous Brazilians to die of Covid-19 back in April.

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Brazil has reported more than 1,000 deaths in a single day from coronavirus for the first time amid There is concern about the rapid spread of the virus in poor areas and indigenous communities In São Paulo, Brazil 's largest city with about 12 million residents and one of the hardest - hit places, a

"The coronavirus has taken advantage of years of public neglect," said Dinaman Tuxa, APIB's executive coordinator and a member of the Tuxa people in northeastern Brazil. "Our communities are often in remote, inhospitable regions without access or infrastructure."

He said that in the Tuxa community of 1,400 people there aren't any hospitals and the nearest ICU is a four and half hour drive away. Their main form of prevention has been complete isolation.

"In the face of the pandemic we haven't had many choices," he said. "We have completely isolated ourselves. We set up barriers. No one is allowed in and we try to keep anyone from going out."

So far, there haven't been any confirmed cases in Tuxa, but he doesn't know how long they will be able to stave off the virus. More than 60 indigenous communities have confirmed Covid-19 cases, many of them in the Amazon region, where people can only get to hospitals by boat or airplane. 

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19 May 2020 (UNHCR)* — As the Coronavirus pandemic spreads through Latin America, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is warning that many displaced indigenous communities are With COVID-19 hitting this Amazon region hard and Brazil emerging as an epicenter of the pandemic, UNHCR is

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Brazil 2/6. The drama of the 35 families of the Kambeba tribe is repeated in indigenous communities across the Amazon, as the epidemic moves upriver from Manaus, one of the hardest hit cities in Brazil , where hospital have run out of intensive

According to a study by the non-profit InfoAmazonia, the average distance between indigenous villages and the nearest intensive care unit (ICU) in Brazil is 315 kilometers. And for 10 percent of villages that distance is between 700-1,079 kilometers.

"Indigenous communities -- even the ones with basic health clinics -- just aren't prepared for coronavirus, which means those infected have to be removed and often travel long distances," Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous congresswoman in Brazil, said in an interview. "And when they get there, they have to compete for hospitals, for ICU beds, for ventilators, because there just isn't enough."

The northern and northeastern states have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus in Brazil. Most of the Covid-19 deaths in indigenous people have occurred in Amazonas, one of the states with the highest infection rates where local officials have warned that the health system was collapsing back in March.

Indigenous rights activists warn that illegal mining and logging on indigenous lands, which have increased since Brazil's pro-development President Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in last year, now pose an even greater threat to remote communities.

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Far from lab coat and face mask territory, a group of indigenous healers with feather and leaf headdresses is working its way up the Amazon river, looking for medicinal plants to treat the new coronavirus . In a small motor boat, five men from the Satere Mawe tribe are trying to help their

Deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest increased by nearly 64% in April this year, compared to the same month last year, according to data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Last month alone, more than 156 square miles (405.6 square kilometers) of rainforest were destroyed -- a vast swath more than double the size of Washington, DC.

The first trimester of 2020 had already seen a more than 50% increase in deforestation compared to last year, according to INPE data.

"The indigenous people in the Amazon don't have the antibodies for the diseases that come from outside of the rainforest," Brazilian activist and photographer Sebastião Salgado told CNN's Christiane Amanpour during a recent interview. "There is a huge danger that the coronavirus could come inside indigenous territory and become a real genocide."

Brazil's Congress passed an emergency plan for indigenous communities last week that would not only provide medical equipment and field hospitals but also potable water and food supplies that allow tribes to isolate themselves. But it still needs to be approved by the Senate and get a green light from Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the virus and has a historically antagonistic relationship with indigenous communities.

"Indigenous people can't always be the last ones to be treated, the last ones to receive equipment," said Wapichana, who is the plan's rapporteur. "There isn't a single field hospital just for indigenous people. They are building them in the wrong places."

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