Brazil teen’s death raises virus alert for indigenous groups

Brazil teen’s death raises virus alert for indigenous groups

RIO DE JANEIRO — A teenager from the Yanomami indigenous tribe has been killed by the new coronavirus in Brazil, the Health Ministry said Friday, raising alarm about the spread of the virus into protected lands.

The 15-year-old, from a village within the Yanomami indigenous territory, had been hospitalized in an intensive care unit in Roraima state’s capital since April 3, according to the government. The ministry said late Friday that COVID-19 was the cause of his death, and he is the first resident of an indigenous territory to succumb to the disease.

The teen moved from his home village roughly a year ago to another village to study, said Dário Kopenawa Yanomami, vice-president of the Hutukara association, which represents the ethnic group.

The teen was hospitalized in March, but doctors released him. His health deteriorated when he was returning to his village and, after about a week there, he was airlifted to a hospital, Kopenawa said.

“I am feeling very sad,” Kopenawa said. “He had a lot of fight left, a long life. But this happened.”

Many of Brazil’s indigenous groups in the Amazon have effectively retreated into their territories. The concern is that the teen’s death is a harbinger of more cases as the virus still manages to permeate their lands, where communal living can facilitate contagion and proper medical care is remote.

Indigenous people within protected territories have their own public healthcare provider, Sesai, which has created a “crisis cabinet” to oversee handling of the virus response. As of April 8, Sesai had reported six cases of COVID-19 among indigenous people and zero deaths. The system doesn’t treat grave cases, which are redirected to the strained public healthcare system.

In Amazonas, home to more indigenous people than any other state, the health secretary said this week that 95% of intensive care beds were already occupied. The Health Ministry’s weekly epidemiological report showed Amazonas with the greatest incidence of the COVID-19 disease, at 19 per 100,000 residents, although its total number of cases remains a fraction of the hotspot in Sao Paulo.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Roughly half of Brazil’s indigenous people no longer live in protected lands, according to Marco Paulo Schettino, an anthropologist. Historical reasons include encouragement to assimilate, expulsion from their lands or not having lands recognized by the government, and the lure of healthcare, education and money.

However, many urbanized indigenous people frequently travel back to ancestral lands, and so can transmit the virus, said Schettino, executive secretary at Brazil’s public prosecution office responsible for indigenous affairs.

Public prosecutors have pressured the Health Ministry to direct resources to infrastructure, including construction of barriers and field hospitals, according to Antônio Carlos Bigonha, the office’s lead prosecutor.

“We have to maintain the villages’ isolation, maintain the communities in quarantine so they aren’t contaminated with the virus and it isn’t disseminated,” Bigonha said by phone from Brazil’s capital, Brasilia.

Sesai has a sanitary unit in charge of Yanomami territory and is responsible for 28,000 people in 363 villages. It has isolated and is monitoring several people who were in contact with the deceased teen, and dispatched COVID-19 tests to the area, according to the unit’s co-ordinator, Francisco Dias.

Meantime, the youth’s parents are in mourning, according to Kopenawa.

“They want to bring his body back to his land, where he was born, where he grew up,” Kopenawa said. “On the other hand, there’s a bit of danger of transmitting the sickness to the community.”

David Biller, The Associated Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta reports just seven new COVID-19 cases

‘Today’s numbers mark an occasion to be celebrated’

PHOTO: Food Truck Drive and Dash in Red Deer

Food Truck Fridays launched its new drive-thru style event this week. Throughout… Continue reading

RCMP still on the lookout for missing Sylvan Lake man

Sylvan Lake RCMP is reaching out to the public with a renewed… Continue reading

WATCH: Hundreds gather in downtown Red Deer to protest racism

Hundreds of Red Deerians gathered in City Hall Park to peacefully protest… Continue reading

PODCAST: Black Lives Matter in central Alberta

Community organizers come on the show to discuss central Albertan anti-racist movement

POLL: Do you support imposing steep penalties on first-time impaired drivers?

Do you support imposing steep penalties on first-time impaired drivers, rather than… Continue reading

US unemployment drops unexpectedly to 13.3% amid outbreak

US unemployment drops unexpectedly to 13.3% amid outbreak

WestJet breaks ranks with carriers to offer refunds to some customers

WestJet breaks ranks with carriers to offer refunds to some customers

Ottawa postpones auction of spectrum by six months, says delay due to COVID

Ottawa postpones auction of spectrum by six months, says delay due to COVID

Bombardier cutting 2,500 jobs as business jet demand falls due to pandemic

Bombardier cutting 2,500 jobs as business jet demand falls due to pandemic

North American stock markets end week on fire after surprising jobs reports

North American stock markets end week on fire after surprising jobs reports

City of Red Deer developing plan to reopen sports fields

As new provincial guidelines related to Alberta’s relaunch continue to roll out,… Continue reading

Books being sold for $20 a box in drive-by sale

A Red Deer non-profit agency is hosting a drive-by book sale. Shalom… Continue reading

Most Read