The deaths of ten Yanomami children has fuelled fears about the impact of coronavirus on indigenous communities.
Indigenous communities are among the hardest hit groups in Brazil. They have had nearly 48,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 953 deaths.
The Yanomami reserve, in the Brazilian state of Amazonas and bordering Venezuela, has been seriously affected by past outbreaks of measles, smallpox and flu. Community leaders are particularly concerned about the threat the virus poses to the young.
“Yanomami children are clearly more vulnerable to the virus, because many suffer from malnutrition and diseases like malaria, and some areas have no health workers,” Maurício Ye’kwana, the director at the Hutukara Yanomami Association, told the Guardian.
Of 32 Yanomami confirmed or suspected to have had the virus, 7 were below the age of two, four were between 12 and 20.
Corroborating these local findings is the work of Andrey Cardoso, who is based at the government research institute of Fiocruz. He has found that the “Covid-19 mortality rate is much higher in indigenous under-fives than in the same age group in the general population,”
In previous studies, he found that poor sanitary conditions and high rates of anaemia, malnutrition and diarrhoea to among the indigenous contributes to the increased likelihood of infection.
Brazil’s ministry of health said last week that it had sent a team to evaluate the situation in the Yanomami territory.
Concerns among indigenous communities are heightened by the growing number of illegal miners and loggers who have taken advantage of the pandemic to extract resources in the area.
In a joint statement, issued in January, with the President of the Bishops’ conference of Brazil CNBB, the President REPAM, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, Dom Erin Kräutler, noting the dangers of these incursions, called on the government to aid the people of the Amazon.
The Covid-19 pandemic, he stated, has “facilitated illegal exploitation of raw materials, increasing fires and environmental pollution.”
“For the love of God and Our Lady, Manaus, the Amazon, is Brazil. Please wake up for the people who live here and want to survive this pandemic,” he said.
The statement was issued in response to the lack of oxygen cylinders in Manaus, the state capital of Amazonas. Last month, 2,195 people died of Covid-19 in the city, up more than 700% compared to December.
Efforts to tackle the shortage of oxygen have been spearheaded by the CNBB. While it has proved fruitful, oxygen prices have risen by a factor of ten in the state.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was told that some families have paid upwards of £750 – four times the monthly salary of those living in the region – for three hours of oxygen.
In comments to ACN, the Archbishop of Manaus, Leonardo Steiner highlighted the issue of transportation and access.
“The biggest difficulty is the sheer distances and the problem of access to the hospitals that are equipped for helping the most severely ill,” he said.