Social Issues

Brazil moves to address health emergency on indigenous reserve

Boa Vista, Brazil, Jan 28 (EFE).- Thirty indigenous people have been treated so far at a field hospital set up after the Brazilian government declared a health emergency on the Yanomami reserve in the Amazonian state of Roraima, the air force said Saturday.

Staffed by 30 air force physicians, nurses and pharmacists, the field hospital opened Friday near the House of Indigenous Health (Casai) in Boa Vista, the state capital.

The air force unit is intended to help relieve a crisis at Casai, which is currently treating some 700 patients, more than double its capacity.

Only the most serious cases are referred to Casai, as most indigenous patients receive treatment at village clinics scattered across the Yanomami reserve, an expanse of nearly 10 million hectares (22 million acres).

Health Ministry doctors have been deployed to the village clinics, which saw 148 patients on Wednesday alone.

The center-left government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who took office on New Year’s Day, declared a health emergency on the reserve on Jan. 20.

At least 570 Yanomami children have died in recent years “from mercury poisoning, malnutrition and hunger,” according to the newly created Ministry of Indigenous Peoples.

Last year, the ministry said, 99 Yanomamis between the ages of 1 and 4 perished from malaria, malnutrition, pneumonia or diarrhea.

Lula visited Roraima a week ago to get a first-hand look at the situation on the reserve, which was invaded by as many as 20,000 wildcat miners during the administration of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

The miners spread disease, drove off the wildlife that supported hunting and polluted the rivers with mercury.

In Roraima, Lula, a former two-term president who defeated Bolsonaro in the Oct. 30 election, called his predecessor’s policy toward the Yanomamis “premeditated murder.”

He said that Bolsonaro “abandoned” Brazil’s indigenous peoples and encouraged illegal miners and loggers to invade their reserves.

Bolsonaro, an admirer of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime, often complained that too much of the country’s land had been set aside for the indigenous peoples and he effectively suspended enforcement of environmental regulations in Amazonia, reflecting in a dramatic increase in the rate of deforestation.

The Federal Police announced Wednesday the opening of an investigation of whether the emergency on the Yanomami reserve was the consequence of criminal dereliction by authorities. EFE cm/dr

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