World

Brazil’s indigenous people call for WHO protection fund

Source:Reuters Published: 2020/5/5 22:08:41

An aerial view of coffins being buried at an area where new graves have been dug at the Parque Taruma cemetery during the COVID-19 pandemic in Manaus, Brazil on Tuesday. Graves are being dug at a new area of the cemetery for suspected and confirmed victims of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: AFP

Indigenous leaders in Brazil asked the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday to set up an emergency fund to help protect their communities from the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of Brazil’s 850,000 indigenous people live in remote Amazon areas with little access to healthcare, and indigenous groups said the government of President Jair Bolsonaro has not included the communities in national plans to fight the virus.

In a letter to WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, they asked for help to provide personal protective equipment that is unavailable to health workers in tribal reservations and villages.

“It is a real emergency,” Joenia Wapichana, the leader of the appeal to the WHO and the first indigenous woman elected to Brazil’s Congress, told Reuters. “Indigenous people are vulnerable and have no protection.”

The number of indigenous people in Brazil killed by the novel coronavirus has risen to 18, said Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation (APIB), though the government has only officially reported six.

That is because the indigenous health service Sesai only reports deaths in tribal villages and not those of tribe members who have moved to urban areas.

By Sunday, 107 indigenous people in the Amazon were confirmed to be infected, with the majority, or 59, in the upper reaches of the Amazon river near the border with Colombia and Peru, APIB said. 

The Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon has complained about Sesai’s lack of testing and absence of care for people living outside their traditional villages in cities such as Manaus, where virus cases have overwhelmed the hospital system.

Bolsonaro’s new health minister, Nelson Teich, has said protecting indigenous people is a priority. 

The Brazilian government’s indigenous affairs agency has stopped Christian missionaries from evangelizing isolated tribes.

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