How Does COVID-19 Affect Indigenous Communities in Brazil?

In Brazil, many indigenous communities live in settlements and have limited access to healthcare, raising concerns about their susceptibility to COVID-19.

The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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The coronavirus feel like it's everywhere, but in many cases, the chances of surviving depend on where we are and the environment. Taking this into account, what about the indigenous communities that are under strict lockdown and are extremely susceptible to disease?

As the coronavirus takes its toll on the world, indigenous communities in Brazil face unique challenges in the fight against the pandemic.

"At this time of the pandemic, indigenous are dying from this disease here and their death is not being recognized by the state," complains Vanderlecia Ortega Santos, an indigenous Brazilian nurse, for the Turkish TV channel TRT World.

Sometimes these communities are just so far away from the health system that it's challenging to get sanitizing supplies to prevent sickness and no hospital around if they get sick.

Fear of coronavirus has caused many to seek even more distance, pushing deeper into jungles and forest, further away from the virus and further away from help. In the Amazon, the virus poses a threat to its inhabitants and the rainforest itself.

Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin's latest report shows that around 3 million rainforests inhabit the Amazon basin. At least 180 of the 600 indigenous tribes there have been infected by the virus.

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During a coronavirus special transmitted by the German channel DW News, they show a tribe in Minas Gerais State. The TV special shows that the community is worried that the coronavirus could soon spread to them.

Tehe Pataxo, Leader of the Nao Xoha Native Community, told DW News, "we are asking for help because the state neglects we indigenous peoples. We are afraid that we will starve because nobody knows how long the corona crisis will last".

Regarding this issue, Elcio Manchineri, spokesman for the Articulation of the Indigenous People of Brazil, says, "there is no a health policy by the states to combat COVID-19 withing indigenous territories, and when it exists as is the case of Brazil, institutions refuse to provide this service".

It's a very different story further north in the Amazon basin where many native communities are taking control of their destiny by shutting off their reservations and putting up barriers against intruders and the virus. There's hardly any intact rainforest left to flee to, so this tribe is forced to tough it out.

Brazil's Indigenous People Articulation (APIB) said that as of May 12, 371 indigenous people were infected, and 78 people had died.

In an open letter signed by more than 240.000 people, including Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, and Meryl Streep, people urged Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to save Amazon tribes' immediate action from COVID-19.

Suzanne Pelletier, Executive Director at Rainforest Foundation US, warns in an interview with TRT World, "this pandemic is not only a humanitarian emergency, but it is also an environmental emergency. Indigenous peoples across the Amazon are the last line of defense against forest destruction".

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