The Yanomami people threatened by measles outbreak

The Yanomami communities of the Upper Orinoco face a new threat to their survival: an outbreak of measles. Since March of this year there are reports of sick Indians and the total number of people affected is still unknown.

Indigenous Yanomami approached Wataniba in recent days to share their concern and alarm over the existence of a measles outbreak, for more than three months in the communities of Alto Ocamo – Parima, in Venezuela, and in the Ônkiola region, Brazilian side. The alarm is great because of the epidemiological vulnerability of this people to this disease.

The first warning came from members of the Yanomami Hutukara organization, based in Brazil, who in March 2018 reported to health personnel Yanomami, in Delgado Chalbaud, by radio, that there were sick people with measles in the “Hokomawe” sector. and Momoi “, a region that for the members of the Yanomami Hutukara organization covers an extensive area with more than 11 communities in Venezuela and as many in Brazil. On the Venezuelan side it includes towns such as Tokori, Hokomawë I, Hokomawë II, Koaiampu I, Koaiampu II, Koaiampu III, Irotha and Oroshi, all of which are difficult to access. Then, they learned that 23 Yanomami arrived at a hospital in Boa Vista, capital of Roraima state in Brazil, and that one case is verified for the disease, while 22 remained suspects. Those affected came from members of the Yanomami Hutukara organization in the Hokomawë and Momoi sector, mentioned above.

The Venezuelan Yanomami report that following an entry to Alto Ocamo-Parima in May by health agencies in the state of Amazonas, it was learned that there were another 25 cases belonging to the Oroshi and Irotha communities. It is worrying that of those cases, 52% are over 25 years old. In addition, the majority (88%) are male. Because these are areas of very difficult access (distance, environmental conditions, transfer costs), there is no precision as to the actual number of indigenous people affected by this disease in this border area. Vaccination efforts of state health agencies have been focused on what are traditionally the most sensitive age group, which are children. However, given that these particular communities are of recent contact, they have not been able to be vaccinated against this and other diseases that are not natural to them; On the contrary, they are associated with contact with garimpeiros and, as is well known, at this moment illegal gold mining has an important boom. Regional health agencies, according to the indigenous people, have not been able to re-enter the area.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in its March 2018 report, indicated that Venezuela is in the first place of cases of measles in Latin America. However, the group reporting the highest incidence is made up of children under 15 years of age. This deviation from the pattern is very alarming because it speaks of the vulnerability of entire communities, which is why the Yanomami organizations are very concerned. In addition to that, it draws attention, according to the information provided by the Yanomami, that men in the communities visited, aged between 15-39 years (ages where the greatest workforce resides) represent only 18% of the total of the male population and 8% of the total population, while women in that same age group constitute 40% of women and 21% of the total population. It is worrying that a population that has not received vaccination is either leaving their communities to areas where measles is found as a latent virus in vaccinated people, or in contact with other sick individuals, who are “cared for” during the disease. This constitutes a serious threat to the Yanomami people.

On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that the national government implemented in 2017 the National Plan of vaccination against measles and rubella, which sought to vaccinate more than 4 million children and adolescents between six months and 15 years of age. This campaign began on April 6 of the same year, as announced by Luis Lopez, Minister of Popular Power for Health of Venezuela, and the states considered as priorities were Anzoategui, Apure, Bolivar, Delta Amacuro, Capital District, Miranda, Monagas and Zulia, to then spread throughout the country with 11 million vaccines. In this campaign, the Amazonas state was not considered a priority and in the PAHO report there is no mention of specific vaccination plans for people with recent contact or voluntary isolation, as is the case in many Yanomami communities.

At the level of the Amazonas state, as the Yanomami themselves indicate, we know that the regional health agencies have taken actions to address as many communities as possible with the resources and means to which they have access. However, it is necessary to have national support so that these organizations can expand their activities and address this health emergency. From Wataniba, together with the indigenous peoples with whom we work, we call on national health officials to take measures as quickly as possible, so that medical attention can be given to all affected communities and new vaccination days can be held. reach all the communities of recent contact and that they can serve their entire population.

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