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  • Health experts warn that the spreading virus could be lethal for Brazil’s 850,000 Indigenous people.

    Health experts warn that the spreading virus could be lethal for Brazil’s 850,000 Indigenous people. | Photo: EFE

Published 1 April 2020

The 20-year-old woman from the Kokama tribe tested positive for the new coronavirus, COVID-19. 

An indigenous woman in a village deep in the Amazon rainforest has contracted the novel coronavirus, the first case reported among Brazil's more than 300 tribes, the Health Ministry's Indigenous health service (SESAI) said Wednesday.

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Brazil: 'Covid-19 Can Decimate Indigenous Peoples' Doctor Warns

The 20-year-old woman from the Kokama tribe tested positive for the virus in the district of Santo Antonio do Içá, near the border with Colombia some 880 km (550 miles) up the Amazon river from the state capital Manaus, SESAI said in a statement.

Four cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the same district, including a Brazilian doctor who tested positive last week, raising fears that the epidemic could spread to remote and vulnerable indigenous communities with devastating effect.

SESAI said the woman was a medical worker who had been in contact with the doctor. She was the only person to test positive among 15 health workers, and 12 patients tested after the doctor was found to have the virus. 

The doctor had returned from a vacation in southern Brazil to work with the Tikunas, one of the largest tribes in the Amazon, with more than 30,000 people who live in the upper Amazon near the borders with Colombia and Peru.

Their names were not released, while she has been isolated with her family, SESAI said.

Health experts warn that the spreading virus could be lethal for Brazil's 850,000 Indigenous people, who have already been decimated for centuries by other diseases such as smallpox and malaria to the flu.

"There is a high risk that the virus will spread through communities and cause genocide," health doctor Sofia Mendonça, a researcher at the Federal University of Sao Paulo (UNIFESP), told BBC.

Mendonça also said that methods used in urban areas to reduce contagions, such as washing hands with gel alcohol and others, are not practical in many isolated tribes. That is why the best alternative is to concentrate all efforts on preventing the virus from reaching communities and isolating infected people.

Meanwhile, several organizations, like the Indigenous Missionary Council of Brazil (CIMI), have denounced the danger behind the measures decreed by the government of Jair Bolsonaro. He has allowed access to isolated Indigenous populations during the pandemic of the new COVID-19 coronavirus, in what would be a genocide according to warnings from experts.

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