Covid-19 in Brazil

Double death rate in indigenous communities (Press Release)

Overall, the coronavirus pandemic has hit Brazil hard – but the country's indigenous population is particularly affected: 980 infections have been confirmed among the approximately 900,000 indigenous people. At least 125 members of indigenous communities have died from Covid-19. The mortality rate is 12.6 percent, almost double the national rate of 6.4 percent. "In the pandemic, the situation of indigenous people in Brazil is especially precarious," explained Juliana Miyazaki, one of the experts on indigenous communities of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). "While there are new infections and deaths every day, these communities are also fighting for social justice and medical help." However, the anti-indigenous government under Jair Bolsanaro refuses to help wherever possible.

"The pandemic once again shows that institutional racism against the indigenous population is commonplace," Miyazaki emphasized. "Access to adequate medical care is very limited, and even indigenous aid workers are unable to meet the needs of indigenous communities." So far, doctors at the Indigenous Health Agency SESAI have not kept rigorous quarantine. The first registered case of Covid-19 among the indigenous communities was transmitted by a SESAI doctor. The virus is carried into the communities by doctors, but also by missionaries and by intruders in search of natural resources. "Despite the risks, more and more foreigners are entering indigenous areas to cut wood or to look for gold," Miyazaki stated.

So far, infections have been detected in 60 indigenous communities in Brazil. "However, the authorities are not transferring all the public funds they are supposed to receive," Miyazaki criticized. "Hygiene articles and test kits are in short supply, and the hospitals are overcrowded." According to a study by the non-profit organization InfoAmazonia, the average distance between indigenous villages and the nearest intensive care unit in Brazil is 315 kilometers. Ten percent of these villages are even 700 to over 1,000 kilometers away from such a facility.

Many indigenous people are dependent on a low income that they can achieve in the city through informal jobs or by selling handicrafts. Thus, despite the high risk of infection, they cannot afford to isolate themselves for their own protection.