Indigenous tribes at risk of genocide with Covid-19 outbreak

Indigenous tribes have lost 95 percent of their population in the past due to outbreaks of diseases like small pox, which Europeans brought with them. The tribal community has not developed immunity against a number of diseases because they live cut off from the world.

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A 20-year-old indigenous woman belonging to the Kokama tribe has been tested positive for coronavirus in Brazil. Hers is the first case to be tested positive, confirmed the Health Ministry’s indigenous health service Sesai. She is currently experiencing no symptoms and has been quarantined along with her family. Kokama is amongst the 300 tribes who live in the Amazon Forest. 

The woman tested positive in the district of Santo Antonio da Içá. She was in contact with a doctor from the district who was also tested positive for the virus. She was the only one, among 15 health care workers and 12 patients who were tested positive after coming in contact with the doctor. With four cases that have been tested positive in the district, including the doctor, there is a real danger that the virus could spread to tribal communities in the Amazon. This could have a devastating effect on the population. 

Much like the tribes in the Amazon, the tribals in Andaman and Nicobar are cut off from the world and thus do not have a high immunity against diseases. The population of the tribals has drastically reduced in the past due to the outbreak of diseases like flu and measles. 

According to reports the doctor had returned from southern Brazil and started working with one of Amazon’s largest tribes, the Tikunas. They have a population of about 30,000.  

Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said, “We have to be triply careful in these communities, especially the most isolated ones.” Health experts have warned that 850,000 indigenous people are at the risk of being wiped out.  They are concerned that the living arrangements in the villages could be dangerous. People live in communal huts, which means, if any one of the members caught the virus, all others could be infected. 

This incident is a red flag and needs to be monitored closely. Indigenous tribes have lost 95 percent of their population in the past due to outbreaks of diseases like small pox, which Europeans brought with them. The tribal community has not developed immunity against a number of diseases because they live cut off from the world. Reports state that tribal leaders are kept in isolation from the tribe every time they come from a visit overseas, to avoid spreading any diseases that they might have carried.

India is currently facing a similar fear. Andaman and Nicobar have a tribal population that is about 1000 people. It is home to 5 endangered tribes – the Great Andamanese, Jarawas, Onge, Shompen, and the Sentinelese. Andaman has also seen 10 positive cases of coronavirus in the past few weeks. 9 of the 10 cases were people who visited the Nizamuddin Markaz. The 10th patient was the wife of one of the 9 who were tested. 

The biggest task of the authorities right now is to ensure that the virus is contained and does not spread to the tribes. “Our biggest challenge is to contain the spread, to ensure it doesn’t go to the islands and is restricted to Port Blair,” medical nodal officer Avijit Roy said. “We are already on the third level of tracing of the contacts of the positive cases.” Extra precautions are being taken to contain the virus. Only field staff, who have been medically cleared are allowed to deliver food to the tribals and monitor them from a safe distance.  

Australia and Canada face similar issues of protecting the indigenous communities from the pandemic as they are in more danger of being wiped out because of the virus. 

Stephane McLachlan, a professor in the department of environment and geography at the University of Manitoba in central Canada, told Aljazeera  “It’s clear that Indigenous people everywhere are susceptible [and] have been devastated by these pandemics in the past,” he said. “People are relatively isolated, they had inadequate access to healthcare to begin with, the housing is often crowded … food insecurity is an issue sometimes and certainly unemployment rates – those all act to make people more vulnerable.”

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