Indigenous tribes residing in the Amazon rainforest and other parts of Brazil are at potential risk of getting ‘wiped out’ by the novel coronavirus, health experts say.
On April 1, Brazil reported the first indigenous coronavirus case in a 20-year-old woman from the Kokama tribe in the Santo Antonio do Içá district, about 550 miles up the Amazon River from the state capital Manaus.
The indigenous health service Sesai from the Ministry of Health said the woman was a medical worker who had been in contact with a Brazilian doctor who tested positive last week in the same district where four reported cases have occurred.
Sofia Mendonça, a researcher at the Federal University of Sao Paulo (Unifesp) told the BBC: “There is an incredible risk of the virus spreading across the native communities and wiping them out.
Dr Mendonça is also the coordinator of Xingu, a Unifesp-led health initiative that tracks the health of indigenous peoples in the Xingu River Basin in the Amazon rainforest.
Respiratory diseases are still the principal cause of death among the region’s native people. Coronavirus may have catastrophic effects on populations close to those of recent major respiratory disease outbreaks, such as measles.
In the 1960s, a measles epidemic among Yanomami community members living along the Venezuelan border killed nine per cent of those infected.
Dr Mendonça added that if everyone falls ill, “you lose all the old people, their wisdom and social organisation”.
“It’s chaos,” she said.
Fears that indigenous populations are in danger due to the virus have developed as infections with coronavirus spread throughout the world, after being initially concentrated in the state of Sao Paulo.
Now Brazil has over 11,000 infected cases, and 486 deaths.
Roque Paloschi, president of the Aboriginal Missionary Council, said the federal government had “no timetable” with local news agency Telesur and could even use the virus outbreak to withhold assistance from indigenous communities.