By H. Prado
Last Sunday, the 19th of April, was National Indigenous Day. Usually, it is celebrated as date which raises awareness of the stereotypes made against natives and many ceremonies are held, however, this year, all it did was pose the question: How are indigenous communities being affected by the global pandemic?
So far, there have been a total of three deaths in different communities; the first one being a 44-year-old woman from Kokama tribe in the Alto Solimoes Region on the 9th of April, and others from Yanomami, Jaraguá and other ethnicities. In relation to COVID-19 cases, there have been 84, even though it is hard to confirm them as there are little to no medical supplies in villages. Much like the rest of the population, if indigenous citizens visit hospitals, they risk bringing the virus to their communities if they weren't sick already. Nonetheless, unlike other citizens, the coronavirus would bring damage in unprecedented parameters to indigenous villages.
According to the Federal Public Ministry, the COVID-19 postulates a "risk of genocide" to the indigenous population. This happens because, overtime, indigenous communities have been less affected by diseases than the rest of society, leading them to have fewer antibodies and as a result have a weaker immune system. Furthermore, the most prominent cause of death amongst them are respiratory problems, making the coronavirus a distinct threat. Lastly, a Unifesp researcher has alleged that in many tribes, customs include sharing utensils as well as residences between many individuals and that they suffer from a lack of sanitation, meaning that contamination rates could easily rise.
Despite the natural risks, even if communities isolate, they are still exposed to threat as miners and lumberjacks illegally enter land for profits which they believe should continue in spite of the transmissibility of the disease. Currently, it is estimated that in the Yanomami community there are 20 thousand trespassers who aren't following safety precautions and will therefore, infect the indigenous community. But what they don't know is that in case that happens, the magnitude of the infection would be much larger than the one for the rest of the population.
In addition, the unremitting prejudice against natives is also a factor at play as most indigenous communities are located in the North of Brazil, which is one of the regions with the worst healthcare index in the country. Consequently, there are few working ICUs and few hospital beds, suggesting that once cases begin to rise and there isn't enough treatment for all citizens, indigenous ethnicity might intervene with the possibility of being correctly treated. Similarly, the current protocol is that the indigenous cases should be overseen by the SESAI (Secretaria Especial de Saúde Indígena), even though they are running very few tests and only graver cases will be transferred to SUS.
There have also been controversies regarding Funai (Fundação Nacional do Índio) and how they are not doing enough and there have even been claims that they might "turn the blind eye to missionaries and profit seeking groups". Moreover, it is believed that the government isn't providing enough funding and that villages that depend on provisions for food from the government (cestas básicas) might not receive them.
Thus, with compelling natural factors and the high contagiousness of the disease, there is no doubt about whether the indigenous community will be affected, the only question is: Are the measures being taken enough so that this doesn't result in genocide?