SEATTLE, Washington — The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a huge threat to many marginalized communities including the Indigenous community of North and South America. Even before the pandemic, the Indigenous people faced many disadvantages, especially with regard to healthcare and essential services. COVID-19 underscored this disadvantage to a great degree.
The Spread of COVID-19 in Indigenous Community
More than 70 million Indigenous peoples are living in the Americas. As of July 6, there have been a reported 70,000 cases of the virus in the Indigenous community of North and South America with more than 2000 deaths. This is likely an underestimate due to the lack of contact tracing in remote areas where many Indigenous communities reside. The World Health Organization has expressed concerns about the virus and its impact on the Indigenous peoples in North and South America in a statement made by the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus.
Health Care Challenges
In many cases, Indigenous peoples experience many challenges when trying to access health care services. Racism, discrimination, stigma and language barriers make it difficult for Indigenous people to access safe and quality healthcare. Therefore, the community struggles to deal with the high rates of communicable and treatable diseases. Acquiring important preventative measures such as soap, hand sanitizer and masks also poses a challenge due to the lack of availability and affordability.
In places where there is a high concentration of Indigenous people, medical facilities are often understaffed and not equipped with the necessary resources. Many Indigenous communities have communal lifestyles, organizing large gatherings and celebrations throughout the year as part of their culture. This communal lifestyle can pose a huge threat, leading to the virus spreading quickly in these communities. Without properly communicating information regarding the virus, the Indigenous community of North and South America will not be able to adequately combat the spread of COVID-19.
How Food Insecurity Causes More Problems
The Indigenous community of North and South America already face food insecurity as a consequence of the loss of traditional lands. With lockdowns and stay at home orders in place around the world, the community faces even greater difficulty when it comes to accessing food. Many of the Indigenous people have traditional jobs, mainly subsistence occupations where families work to provide for themselves. The subsistence economy has been extremely affected by the lack of public services during the pandemic. Due to this, many Indigenous people struggle to provide for their families during this time.
Indigenous People in Brazil
Brazil has a considerable Indigenous population spread out in its remote areas. Coronavirus cases have increased at an alarming rate in Brazil. It is currently ranked second in the world for most cases. As of July 23rd, Brazil has more than 2.2 million COVID-19 cases and 83,000 deaths. Recently, the virus has been reaching remote areas, threatening Brazil’s Indigenous population. Indigenous elders and leaders have been reaching out to the Brazilian government to implement measures to protect the Indigenous communities. According to the Articulation of Indigenous People in Brazil, approximately 9.1% of Indigenous people who have contracted the disease have died. That is double the national mortality rate of 5.2%, suggesting a grave danger to the Indigenous people.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the Indigenous community of North and South America has stepped up to the challenge. They are coming up with their own solutions in order to combat the spread of the virus. Using knowledge passed down from generations, they are implementing several preventative practices such as voluntary isolation. In addition, they are sealing off their lands. WHO’s Regional Office for the Americas has even put out instructions for the prevention of COVID-19 among the Indigenous community. Moreover, they have been working with Indigenous agencies such as the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin to step up the response against the virus and to help protect the Indigenous communities at risk.
– Abbas Raza