Indigenous South Americans and COVID-19

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SEATTLE, Washington — As COVID-19 rapidly spreads throughout the world, some world populations are being impacted by the pandemic more severely than others. With little access to medical care, Indigenous South Americans are especially struggling with the virus. By July 2020, over 38 tribes in the Amazon region of South America have come in contact with COVID-19. At the same time, the virus had already claimed 1,108 lives of Indigenous South Americans and infected 27,517 others.

Effects of COVID-19 on Indigenous South Americans

Indigenous people are statistically at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19. In Brazil, Indigenous people are at almost double the risk of dying. According to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), 9.1% of Indigenous Brazilians die from COVID-19 after contracting it, but only 5.2% of the rest of the Brazilian population dies.

The virus is causing a range of different issues for the Indigenous community in South America. Because of social distancing precautions, many Indigenous South Americans are out of work. Furthermore, they typically rely on each other as a community and hold many community-based events. These factors alter the risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19.

The strict lockdown guidelines are also detrimental to the farming industry for Native South Americans. This is causing an array of issues for the tribes, including increased food insecurity. South American Indigenous communities already struggle with food insecurity, but since the governments prohibited the exchange of crops, food insecurity is an even greater issue. It pushes more people on the streets to find food or money to feed and take care of their families. However, this is just increasing the spread of the virus.

Lack of Education and Start of Protests in Brazil

People of Native ancestry in South America are also disproportionately affected by a lack of education due to the COVID-19 lockdown compared to other Latin Americans. For example, in Paraguay, 92% of Indigenous children do not have access to the internet. This means they do not have the opportunity to receive a remote education, unlike most South American children. This is the case for Native children in South America as most of them live in rural areas where internet access is not available and miss out on vital education. The lack of education for children in South America will continue the poverty cycle for them. Safe access to education via the internet is essential for Native American children to have a successful future.

In August, Indigenous people began protesting in Brazil over a lack of protection against COVID-19. Tribes in Brazil have little access to medical care during this pandemic. Scarcity of medical professionals, beds, testing kits, preventative equipment like masks and ICU care are some things they are struggling with. The protests are aimed to increase the resources given by the Brazilian government to help them prevent and combat COVID-19.

Government Funding for Native South Americans

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides financial resources to combat COVID-19 for Indigenous populations throughout the world. With their contributions, Indigenous South Americans will have greater access to COVID-19 protective and treatment resources. In their largest contribution toward combating COVID-19 for Indigenous populations, the CDC contributed a $142 million non-competitive grant. This funding is used to slow the spread of COVID-19, provide information and other preventative services.

The best way to help resolve the issue of COVID-19 among the Indigenous population in Latin America would be to increase the funding to these countries. Countries like Brazil need to increase the resources provided as Indigenous are underrepresented and have little access to COVID-19 preventative and curing methods. More financially stable countries such as the United States can also send aid such as respirators, doctors, masks, financial support and other resources to Latin American countries to support the Indigenous population.

Natives are at a tremendous risk of losing their livelihood and their lives because of this COVID-19 pandemic. With over 350 different tribes totaling 18 million people, Indigenous South Americans need to be better represented. Without aid from South American and international governments, Indigenous tribes in South America will continue to suffer from COVID-19 and its repercussions.

Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr

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