Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Isolated Amazon Indians Victims of Swine Flu Epidemic

Meet the new boss

...same as the old boss.

On May 30, 1539, Hernando de Soto landed his army near Tampa Bay, Florida. Soto had
grown very rich by trading for Indian slaves, and these profits helped to fund another Spanish
explorer’s capture of the Incan empire, which made Soto even richer. Looking for new lands
to conquer, he turned to North America, coming to Florida with 200 horses, 600 soldiers, and
300 pigs. In spite of the atrocities of Soto’s force, some historians say that the worst thing the
Spaniards did was to bring the pigs.
After Soto left, no Europeans visited this area for more than a century. Early in 1682 whites
appeared again, this time Frenchmen in canoes. The French passed through the area where
Soto had found the numerous cities within sight of each other. The area was deserted – La
Salle’s expedition didn’t see an Indian village for 200 miles.

Pigs, which multiply rapidly and could pass diseases to deer and turkeys, were the most
likely culprit; only a few of them would have had to wander off to infect the nearby forests –
and much of the Indians’ food supply. Between Soto’s and La Salle’s visits, the population of
this area has been estimated as falling from about 200,000 to about 8,500 – a drop of nearly
96 percent. An equivalent loss today to the population of New York City would reduce the
population to 56,000 – not even enough to fill Yankee Stadium. “That’s one reason whites
think of Indians as nomadic hunters,” says anthropologist Russell Thornton of UCLA.
“Everything else – all of the heavily populated urbanized societies – was wiped out.”

Isolated Amazon Indians Victims of Swine Flu Epidemic

Thursday, 5 November 2009, 10:23 am
Press Release: Survival International
Yanomami Indians in Venezuela have died from an outbreak of suspected swine flu in the last two weeks. Another 1,000 Yanomami are reported to have caught the virulent strain of flu.

The Venezuelan government has sealed off the area, and sent in medical teams to treat the Yanomami. The regional office of the World Health Organization has confirmed the presence of swine flu.There are fears that the epidemic could sweep through the Yanomami territory and kill many more Indians.

The Yanomami are the largest relatively isolated indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest, with a population of about 32,000 that straddle the Venezuela-Brazil border. Due to this isolation they have very little resistance to introduced diseases such as influenza.

In the 1980-90s, when goldminers invaded their land, one fifth of the Yanomami in Brazil died from diseases such as flu and malaria introduced by the miners. Their future was only secured after a major international campaign led by the Yanomami themselves, Survival International and the Pro Yanomami Commission.

Health care is already extremely precarious on both sides of the border. Many Yanomami communities have no access at all to health care and this mountainous, forested region presents many challenges in the provision of emergency medical aid.

The Yanomami territory lies on the border of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela and is the largest indigenous territory in tropical rainforest in the world. Last month Survival published a report highlighting the special threat that swine flu presents to indigenous people around the world.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival said, ‘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. 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.’ original story


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