Air rescues of sick Yanomami kids increasing in Brazil
Boa Vista, Brazil, Jan 29 (EFE).- The number of hospitalizations of seriously ill children of Brazil’s Yanomami tribe has been increasing over the past week, ever since the national government declared a health emergency on the country’s biggest indigenous reservation and obligated the only airline providing health rescue service to increase its flights ferrying those children to health care facilities.
Voare, an air taxi service operating in Roraima state in Brazil’s Amazon region and which has the contract to transport indigenous people needing hospitalization from their villages to Boa Vista, the regional capital, has already made as many as 16 flights in a single day, given the recent spike in demand for such services.
In just two hours on Saturday afternoon EFE witnessed the landing of Voare aircraft transporting seriously ill Yanomami children en route to Boa Vista’s only pediatric hospital.
The first child, under age 1 and who was diagnosed with pneumonia, was airlifted on a Caravan aircraft – while connected to a respirator – from a Yanomami village near the border with Venezuela.
The second, just 14 days old and showing clear signs of malnutrition, arrived at Voare’s runway in Boa Vista on board a Cessna 206 operated by the same firm after a 90-minute flight.
On Friday, another four Yanomami kids suffering from serious health problems had arrived in Boa Vista, one of them born less than a month ago and diagnosed with malaria, pneumonia and the flu and flying with his mother and a nurse.
The Yanomami Indigenous Territory, Brazil’s largest reservation, with some 27 tribal villages – and at least 23,500 members of the tribe – scattered across some 10 million hectares (38,600 square miles), is located in a difficult-to-access part of far-northern Amazonia along the border with Venezuela.
Surface access to the region is possible only via rivers and the journeys along the waterways are long, so transporting patients and making timely rescues of various sorts must be done by air.
“Generally, we bring one patient on each flight. Now, there are days on which we bring up to three per flight,” Fausto Rodrigues dos Santos, Voare’s operations director, said on Friday.
He said that each flight always includes a doctor and a nurse and that most of the time the rescues are not requested until the patient is already in very serious condition.
Almost all the children rescued in this way are transported to Boa Vista’s only pediatric hospital, where as of Friday there were 59 minors being treated, of whom 45 were Yanomami, most of them suffering from serious malnutrition, acute diarrhea, pneumonia and/or malaria.
The Brazilian government on Jan. 20 had declared a “health emergency” of “national significance” on the Yanomami reservation, given the “abandonment” of the Yanomami – in terms of readily available local healthcare – in recent years, and Brasilia announced the dispatch of medical and health resources to the region, as well as the establishment of two tent hospitals, one of which began operations on Friday.
The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples calculates that “at least 570” Yanomami children died in recent years “due to mercury pollution, malnutrition and hunger.”
According to the ministry, 99 Yanomamis between 1 and 4 years old died in 2022 along as a result of malnutrition, pneumonia or diarrhea linked to “the advance of illegal mining in the region,” a practice that pollutes rivers and destroys the jungle.
The villages of the Yanomami are also suffering from outbreaks of malaria and the violence perpetrated by illegal miners, who are estimated to number more than 20,000 on the Yanomami reservation, which is located between the Amazon and Roraima Rivers.