Brazil mission aims to halt Covid-19 spread in remote indigenous communities

By Joedson Alves

Palmeiras do Javari, Brazil, Jun 19 (efe-epa).- A Brazilian Amazon territory with the world’s largest population of isolated indigenous people is currently at serious risk from Covid-19, prompting the federal government to deploy a medical-military mission to help contain the spread of that potentially fatal respiratory disease.

A military plane loaded with tons of medical supplies landed earlier this week near the banks of the Javari River, which forms a natural border between Brazil and Peru, to boost medical aid for the roughly 7,000 members of six ethnic groups who inhabit that remote region.

The novel coronavirus already has penetrated at least four of the 63 villages that make up the Vale do Javari indigenous territory, which spans more than 85,000 square kilometers (32,800 square miles) and makes up most of the far-western state of Amazonas’ Atalaia do Norte municipality.

Although no deaths have yet been attributed to the pandemic among these isolated communities, health authorities are monitoring 13 coronavirus patients and have confirmed 32 cases in total.

“We’ll attend to the indigenous and non-indigenous population” of Vale do Javari without entering into contact with the isolated native peoples, the Health Ministry’s special secretary for indigenous health, Robson Santos da Silva, told Efe.

He added that authorities are respecting these communities’ decision not to maintain contact with outsiders and to communicate only via radio with health services personnel.

The team of doctors and soldiers traveled to the remote jungle town of Palmeiras do Javari, a settlement located seven days by boat from the Colombian border city of Leticia, to offer additional supplies and support to health personnel and army troops in that frontier region who were already providing assistance to the local population.

Among the soldiers deployed to this region is a 24-year-old indigenous corporal who is playing a key role in facilitating contact between Brazil’s armed forces and the indigenous tribes.

That non-commissioned officer, whose last name is Araujo, told Efe that it is “gratifying” to be a part of the operation, saying the native peoples always show interest in interacting with indigenous soldiers like him.

“They always ask if we really are indigenous, and we end up showing that we really are,” he said.

The Health Ministry launched this mission with logistical support from the Defense Ministry on June 17, when the military plane carrying 23 health professionals took off from Brasilia bound for Amazonas state.

Before arriving in Vale do Javari, the plane made a stopover in the state capital of Manaus to pick up 3.5 tons of medical supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, pulmonary ventilators, masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and rapid coronavirus tests.

Beyond treating people with flu-like symptoms and conducting Covid-19 tests, the operation also has bolstered health care services in this remote region that suffers from a chronic dearth of medical personnel and supplies.

“When we’re unable to obtain health care or medicine, we go to Peru,” local resident Aquila Dias Paxeco told Efe, noting that the neighboring country is a one-hour canoe trip away.

The woman, accompanied by a nine-month-old son who she says is just starting to eat solid food, received treatment for back pain and also requested a general check-up for the infant.

The spread of Covid-19 in Amazonas’ interior has set off alarm bells in that immense state, which is home to Brazil’s largest indigenous population and already was a cause for concern among health officials because of its rudimentary health services.

According to the latest bulletin from the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health, there have been 3,740 confirmed coronavirus cases and 111 deaths thus far among Brazil’s native population.

Brazil, for its part, ranks second only to the United States in both Covid-19 cases (around 1 million) and deaths (47,748). EFE-EPA


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