The coronavirus crisis is severely affecting the Indigenous people of the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said Tuesday at its weekly press briefing, also warning of the effects of the disease on other groups such as women, afro descendants, the poor and migrants.
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At least 20,000 Indigenous people have contracted the potentially deadly virus in the Amazon basin, a region home to more than 2,400 original nations in eight countries including Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname.
In both isolated villages of Indigenous groups and densely populated cities such as Manaus, Iquitos, and Leticia, the incidence of COVID-19 is twice as high as in other provinces in the same countries, the public health agency said.
“Without immediate action, these communities will face a disproportional impact,” the Director of the PAHO, Carissa Etienne, said during the videoconference.
“If we want to slow the spread of the pandemic and put our region on a path to recovery, we must protect vulnerable groups from COVID-19,” Etienne warned.
The contagion curve of the new coronavirus declared a pandemic on March 11 by the World Health Organization (WHO), is growing in the Americas while flattening or falling in the rest of the world.
More than two million infections and more than 121,000 deaths due to the pandemic have been recorded as of Monday, "a 14 percent increase" in both infections and deaths from last week.
“The virus is surging across our region. We are increasingly worried about the poor and other vulnerable groups at greatest risk of illness and death from the virus. The recent spike in cases and fatalities is partly due to the virus taking root in these groups,” Etienne explained.
The PAHO chief recalled that indigenous populations are exposed to high rates of food insecurity, type 2 diabetes, and endemic diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, "which makes them more likely to suffer the burden of this pandemic."
Vulnerable communities in large cities are also hard hit by the pandemic, where “poor social and economic conditions provide a fertile breeding ground for COVID-19” along with the economic impact of people losing their jobs, according to the agency.
As women in the Latin American continent make up around 70 percent of the health workforce, they are also disproportionately affected by COVID-19, Etienne noted.
Among the vulnerable groups are also people of African descent who “struggle to access appropriate care in normal circumstances, a reflection of structural discrimination and racial inequity, which put them at greater danger of contracting COVID-19 and facing the most severe consequences of the disease,” PAHO’s director observed.
Other vulnerable groups to high rates of spread of COVID-19 are the migrants in temporary settlements and prisoners in crowded jails with poor sanitation of, she said.
Reaching these groups represents a special and significant challenge that countries have to face.
The director of PAHO concluded urging for improved access to effective public health measures, the strengthening of health system capacity to better serve vulnerable populations, and for strong social and economic protection.