Almost 40 indigenous tribes in Brazil have reported cases of COVID-19 among their people. Panic is rising because of the lack of resources and external support given to them.

In a report by Caracol, there were over 20,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus near the borders in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. Environmentalists and health experts suspect that the number could be higher due to the lack of means of identifying the transmission.

Lack of government attention

In Manaus, people in the indigenous community of Parque das Tribos mourned for their chief, Messias of the Kokama tribe. His body was buried in a wooden coffin wrapped in plastic. His death was a result of health complications due to COVID-19 infection.

All roads leading outside the communities of the indigenous people in the Amazon are days' worth of ridding the river by canoes, which only suggests that the new coronavirus disease was transmitted by outsiders.

Chief coordinator of the Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Basin Gregorio Díaz Mirabal said in an interview with the New Humanitarian that not enough government attention was given to indigenous communities in the Amazon. He led an association focused on support and representation of the identity of South American indigenous groups. 

He added that the pandemic only showed that the pre-existing factors, products of minimal attention given to the communities, worsened conditions for the people in the Amazon.

Díaz Mirabal said that the governments failed to provide coordination of policies with the indigenous peoples, with whom there are no phone lines or computers to access the Internet with.

There is an immense lack of medical workers and healthcare systems that can tend to the ill, and the only way to the closest hospital is to cross the forest and rivers. According to COICA, nine hospitals are currently serving 3 million people from indigenous communities.

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Governments refused to shut down

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ordered the reopening of essential activities like mining and logging to resume operations on protected indigenous lands during the pandemic. Indigenous federations launched campaigns as mitigation measures in precedence of government actions. 

Survival International, a humanitarian rights group, said that tribal lands were being invaded by illegal miners and loggers with the full support of the federal government. The goal of the authorities might have been to destroy these lands for agriculture and production while environmentalists and guardians of the forest were in social isolation.

In fact, vulnerable groups in the Siekopa'ai (Secoya) community in Ecuador isolated themselves by canoe in Lagarto Cocha to avoid contact with the virus. Ecuador currently reports death rates that are twice that of Brazil.

An attorney and fellow member of the Sateré-Mawé community Tito Menezes said that the Brazilian government must be held accountable for allowing economic activity to resume in the Amazon river that brought the disease to the remote forest tribes.

"Outsiders continued coming and going," Menezes said. He also expressed concern for his own tribe, whose villages were typically situated near river banks used for commerce.

He added that local authorities set up checkpoints to ensure that no operations would resume under their watch to prevent further spread.