By Antonio Torres del Cerro
Sao Paulo, May 9 (efe-epa).- Authorities in Brazil’s Amazonas state, which has the largest indigenous population in the country, are deeply concerned about the advance of Covid-19 in the community.
“We worry a lot about the indigenous communities because of their status of vulnerability, so to speak. We’ve had 95 confirmed cases in the indigenous populations so fat and five deaths,” Social Christian party member Wilson Lima, the governor of Brazil’s most expansive subdivision, told Efe in an interview.
Of the 20 worst-hit towns and cities in Brazil in terms of cases per 100,000 people, 13 are in Amazonas, which is roughly the size of Mongolia.
Images of overflowing hospitals and cemeteries in the state capital Manaus have been shared around the world.
The region sits at the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, which comprises eight other states.
The wider region has a population of four million people, including 185,000 indigenous people. So far in the outbreak, there have been 874 deaths and more than 10,700 confirmed cases affecting 90 percent of towns and cities in the Amazon.
QUESTION: Is there any official record of reported Covid-19 cases being lower than the reality?
ANSWER: We’re following the increase in the number of deaths, but we are paying more attention to burials, which has been our reference point in trying to control the illness. Last year we had an average of 30 burials a day but this year it has gone up to 120. We think that 60 percent of the burials are linked to Covid-19 because there is no other explanation. There may be cases we don’t know about.
Q: A recent study from Imperial College London suggested that 10 percent of the indigenous population in the Amazon has been infected? Can you corroborate that?
A: I think we have an infection rate higher than 10 percent. We’re still having difficulties trying to get rapid testing kits despite getting help from the federal government. We worry a lot about the indigenous communities because of their status of vulnerability, so to speak. We’ve had 95 confirmed cases in the indigenous populations so fat and five deaths. Of course this number will vary. But this indigenous issue is the responsibility of the federal government first and foremost, at least in primary care. We have been working with municipalities to ensure that there is isolation in the villages, preventing non-indigenous people from entering. And that only one indigenous person per community can go shopping. But the federal government is having issues because indigenous people don’t want to leave their villages alone and the treatment for Covid-19 as do be done individually.
Q: How did the virus get to the indigenous villages?
A: There are a number of factors. In Santo Antônio de Sá there was a case of a doctor who went to see an indigenous community having spent several days previously in an area with a high infection rate. He was infected and he ended up infecting the majority of the people he travelled with and as he stopped to work in different communities, he infected them. There is also the question of garimpeiros (illegal miners), tree-fellers. It’s difficult to keep control of the illness.
Q: Sebastiao Salgado, the famed Brazilian photographer who has worked a lot in the Amazon, warned that indigenous communities could be wiped out if the advance of Covid-19 isn’t stopped.
A: I don’t know. There is a lot that is not known about the virus. Indigenous people are suffering like any other population in the world. In China, Spain, Italy. It’s also happening in New York and England. It’s an illness that does not respect ethnicity or class.
Q: Unfortunately, Manaus, there were some complicated situations, with saturated hospitals, problems with burials. Is it under control now?
A: Nobody was prepared for a pandemic like this. In New York, the capital of the world, they were digging mass graves. The same happened here. You have to bear in mind that our healthcare system is not as prepared and the primary health system is even worse off.
Q: How is President Jair Bolsonaro handling the crisis?
A: I’m not going to go into the details of how the president is handling the crisis. Together with the health minister we are trying to agree on a strategy that preserves the health of the people, which is fundamental, and to save lives, while at the same time having a plan to restart the economy.
Q: Has the federal government given enough support?