Indigenous communities throughout the Amazon rainforest have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic because of structural inequalities. The United Nations calls on countries in the region to ensure Indigenous communities have access to adequate health care and other services to prevent future health crises.
As you are aware we work extensively in the Amazon with communities on the different rivers branching out from the mighty Amazon river. Fear gripped many river communities and many closed their doors to not just neighbors but to all foreign visitors too. Although we did a quick visit via our Brazilian contact it was nearly impossible to encourage people as they were fearful to meet even on an individual base.
The following article from GLOBAL CITIZEN explains the crisis in the Amazon caused by the pandemic and opens up the truth about what is happening with the beautiful people of the Amazon.
The COVID-19 pandemic has followed a familiar pattern for Indigenous communities throughout the Amazon rainforest.
After years of their lands being destroyed by forest fires, industrial projects, and urban expansion, a deadly virus arrived and took advantage of their simultaneously remote and exposed position.
They’re remote in the sense of being hours away from well-resourced medical facilities and exposed in the sense that outsiders were constantly passing through their homeland to exploit natural resources, while polluting their sources of food and water in ways that weakened their immune systems.
The United Nations warned governments about this dynamic back in March, and its predictions ultimately came true.
By the beginning of September, the death rate from COVID-19 among Indigenous people in Brazil was 250% higher than the general population, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Since then, the Brazilian government has dispatched military doctors to provide emergency medical care to the Guajajara tribe in Maranhão state at the end of September. International organizations such as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are also spearheading relief efforts — but they need more funds.
What makes Indigenous communities throughout the Amazon uniquely vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic? How does the pandemic expose long-standing inequalities?
Jessica Tome: In the Latin American and Caribbean region, Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have historically faced inequalities. Their lower incomes, lower level of educational attainment, and other disadvantaged social determinants of health, compounded with their reduced access to health services, geographic barriers, discrimination, and stigma, make these populations particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 infection and mortality during this COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses an increased risk to the health of Indigenous peoples, both those living in urban areas and those living in remote settlements or isolated areas, where access to health services is a challenge and there is often a limited capacity to serve the entire population. Among Indigenous populations, either living in remote settlements or isolated in urban areas, some of the risk factors that may be associated with higher COVID-19 mortality rates include malnutrition, insufficient access or complete lack of access to health systems as well as to potable water and basic sanitation, in addition to the existing high burden of parasitic diseases. In addition to the aforementioned risk factors, which existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous populations in the Region of the Americas are faced with the following risk factors, which put them in an even more precarious situation:
- The rate of interpersonal contact between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups appears to be increasing in some countries. Interpersonal contact increases the risk of exposure to pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, among these groups.
- The co-infection of COVID-19 with other high-prevalence diseases (tuberculosis, for example) can lead to high mortality rates among Indigenous groups.
- Isolated villages have a much higher population density than more easily reachable villages.
- The diet of many Indigenous populations depends on hunting and fishing. These subsistence practices make containment measures difficult to implement.
- The frequent movement of Indigenous groups through transnational territories increases the risk of exposure to circulating pathogens and the subsequent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between neighboring countries.
- Clandestine logging and illegal mining activities can lead to outbreaks, even in isolated Indigenous communities.
- The displacement of Indigenous peoples previously settled in villages, in pursuit of social services and healthcare, has been associated with outbreaks of communicable diseases.
Please pray for the forgotten people of the Amazon.