Thursday, November 5, 2009

Seven Yanomami die in suspected swine flu outbreak

Seven Yanomami Indians living on the border between Venezuela and Brazil have died from an outbreak of the Type A H1NI "swine flu" virus in the last three weeks, according to reports from Venezuelan sources and the UK-based NGO Survival International.

Raidan Bernade, a Venezuelan doctor based in La Esmeralda on the Orinoco, said that a 35-year-old Yanomami woman was confirmed to have died from swine flu but it was not possible to confirm that the six babies who died - the oldest just 1-year-old - had died of the illness.

Some 1,000 Yanomami are reported to have contracted the virus and Yamilet Mirabal, the government's deputy minister of indigenous affairs for the region, has confirmed that suspected cases of swine flu had been detected in the jungle villages of Mavaca, Platanal and Hatakoa and that medical teams had been dispatched to treat the sick.

Bernade, meanwhile, told news agencies that: "everything is under control" and that many of the flu cases the indigenous Yanomami are suffering from are down to a seasonal flu.

The UK-based indigenous rights group Survival International has called on the governments of Venezuela and Brazil to take urgent action to protect the 32,000 Yanomami who live in the isolated border area, where there is little access to medical care.

"The situation is critical. Both governments must take immediate action to halt the epidemic and radically improve the health care to the Yanomami. If they do not, we could once more see hundreds of Yanomami dying of treatable diseases," said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International.

"This would be utterly devastating for this isolated tribe, whose population has only just recovered from the epidemics which decimated their population 20 years ago," he added, referring to malaria outbreaks in the 1980s and 1990s introduced by wildcat gold miners known as garimpeiros.

The Yanomami, who are linguistically and culturally related to the Sanema, are the largest relatively isolated tribe in the Amazon rainforest and due to their isolation have very little resistance to introduced diseases such as flu.

Click here to read Yanomami Myth 1: The Origin of Fire

Click here to read Yanomami Myth 2: The Origin of Endo-Cannibalism

Video of Sanema Shaman Ritual with Bruce Parry

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