With few resources, indigenous Mexicans employ strategies to fight COVID-19

By Mitzi Mayauel Fuentes Gómez

Chilón, Mexico, May 17 (efe-epa).- In the mountains of the Mexican state of Chiapas, indigenous people are taking their own measures to prevent the coronavirus pandemic from hitting the impoverished region.

While the pandemic is still advancing throughout the world, leaving hundreds of thousands of deaths in its wake, indigenous Mexican peoples seek to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their territories and put into practice their own strategies and ancestral knowledge to confront the coronavirus.

In the municipalities of Chilon and Sitalá, which are governed by a system of their own customs, there are still isolated communities that have minimal health services.

These municipalities, inhabited mostly by the Ch’ol-Tzeltal indigenous people, have few clinics and those that exist only attend to basic ailments.

For this reason, an outbreak of COVID-19 could be widely fatal, Sebastián Hurtado Núñez, a member of the community government of Sitalá, one of the poorest municipalities in Mexico, told EFE.

“We are respecting government instructions, because if that disease hits us… we will die. Because there are no medicines in hospitals, we have no doctors, there are no laboratories,” he said.

About 27 percent of the Chiapas population – about 1.14 million inhabitants – are indigenous, according to the 2010 Population and Housing Census.

According to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval), 76.4 percent of the Chiapas population lives in poverty, mostly indigenous people.

Given the fragile conditions, indigenous communities have established a prevention strategy that includes not leaving their community and blocking the roads, allowing only the entry of vehicles that transport food and basic necessities.

However, following all recommendations to the letter is difficult due to a lack of water. According to Coneval, 57.5 percent of indigenous language-speakers nationwide lack drinking water in their homes.

Income is another factor, since the majority work seasonally in the harvests or with the sale of coffee.

“Here in the community we survive only on food that we sow. Because there is no money,” Rosalía Gutiérrez Monterrosa, a Chilón single mother and resident of the small town Juan Sabines, told EFE.

With very few resources, these communities have managed to obtain some face masks and antibacterial gel.

“What we did was organize the entire community, from young people, men and women, to older adults. And everything that is known or has been heard on radio or television, we put forward to the people and asked them to please follow directions,” Gilberto Gutiérrez de Arar, member of the community government of Chilón, explained to EFE.

Communication in community committees is constant, especially when local people return from other states with a high number of COVID-19 infections.

“There is no care here, the health caravans disappeared. There is no doctor in the hospital. A lot of families are returning from the north of the country and the Caribbean, and there is no medical evaluation to see what condition they are in,” said Gutiérrez de Arar.

Those who arrive from other places are asked to “stay in their homes” for several days while being watched by their relatives. If they develop any symptoms, natural remedies are employed.

“If they get sick, then we give them medicinal herbs,” he said.

Mexico has reported 47,144 cases and 5,045 deaths due to coronavirus, while in Chiapas, the number of infected is 610 and deaths 48.

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