Indigenous communities in the Amazon could be wiped out because of the Coronavirus, say experts

The Brazilian President have been downplaying the intensity of the virus

Respiratory illnesses are one of the main causes of death among the indigenous communities in the Amazon and elsewhere in Brazil. Health experts say that the new coronavirus could wipe out the communities who live in the Amazon and in other places of Brazil.

So far Brazil has reported more than 11,000 cases with around 500 deaths because of the COVID-19. The cases were initially developing in the cities and industrialised regions like Sao Paulo. The infections have started to spread to other regions including the parts where the indigenous communities live. The first case was recorded in Amazonas state. The first positive case was a 20-year-old woman from the Kokama tribe.

The experts believe that the 'elders' of the communities provide wisdom and social organisation and the existence of such a virus could lead to chaos. Some of the members of these communities have started to follow isolation in order to wait out the virus and hopefully not wipe out the communities.

Amazon forest
Amazon forest Reuters

A highly contagious outbreak is fearful

A measles outbreak in the 1960s in the Yanomami community living near the border with Venezuela had killed around 9 per cent of the people who were infected. Experts fear that COVID-19 could have a similar impact on the communities in the Amazon.

Dr Sofia Mendonça, a researcher at the Federal University of São Paulo, told BBC that: "There is an incredible risk of the virus spreading across the native communities and wiping them out."

The biggest risk is losing the older generation of the communities as they hold the key to several of the knowledge about the people and holds the community together as a pillar. Some communities have therefore spilt into smaller groups with the rising fear of the spread among the people. Certain communities lack proper measures where they can wash hands with soap and water, or using hand sanitizer. The people also live in close quarters and share utensils and other daily objects.

They also live in places with limited access to healthcare. Many are questioning how the government will protect the indigenous communities. President Jair Bolsanaro is seen as an enemy by these communities. He has previously said that these lands for the communities is too big and needs to be shared with the rest of the population. The President has also compared the virus to "a little flu" and has been continuous;y dismissing the intensity of the virus.

The mayors and the governors have been making restrictions to avoid the spread of the infection. There are around 107 known indigenous groups in Brazil's Amazon that have no contact to very little contact with the rest of the world. But there has been incursion to these lands by several people. There are several risks these communities face during this time including having no access to the market and other essential supplies during the lockdown. The lockdown could also affect the pensions and other services that the communities usually receive.

This article was first published on April 7, 2020