COVID-19 and indigenous peoples in Brazil: a neglected population and the importance of the vaccine

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Fernanda Clara da Silva and Danielle Correia Furtado, both third year medical students at Rio Grande do Norte State University (UERN) in Mossoró, Brazil. They are affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health declared the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, with the emergence of a serious public health situation worldwide. In the Brazilian context, several measures of information, combat and prevention were raised, however, many times some populations are marginalized and that is why one must consider ethnicity in the COVID-19 approach, especially the brazilian indigenous population¹.

Historically, indigenous peoples have an epidemiological weakness and problems with access to health care. This becomes even more worrying with the recent pandemic, as there are obstacles to adopting basic hygiene and safety measures as well as to maintain social distance in these communities. Culturally, it is a delicate process and requires not only a trained multidisciplinary health team, but also otherness and empathy².

To improve this scenario, the Ministry of Health has developed strategies to improve care and one of the most recent is the creation of the Indigenous Primary Care Unit. Indigenous wards were also installed to treat COVID-19 and Indigenous Health Agents are trained and supplies and equipment are delivered to all health units². In addition, the vaccination plan against COVID-19 in Brazil of CoronaVac by Butantan Institute, included indigenous people as priority populations, which was an improvement.

From this, it is necessary to deconstruct the prejudice about this population in society in general so that they understand the importance of the priority of this group. In addition, it is also a national mission to take these vaccines to the most distant villages in order to achieve vaccination coverage, so that everyone has this chance. Another important point to be mentioned is that fake news and the anti-vaccine movement have generated denial and distrust of the vaccine’s effectiveness, which also needs to be combated. The Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (SESAI) has an important role to clarify doubts and show this group that the vaccine is effective and can save the lives of thousands of indigenous People³.

Based on this, it is necessary that these efforts go to this population, lacking in resources and neglected by the system, to change this. Thus, Brazil can be a world example in terms of access to health for the indigenous population in the fight against COVID-19 and help to reduce the deaths of a community marked by social and cultural marginalization. No more indigenous blood, it’s time to vaccinate and save them.

REFERENCES

  1. Conselho Indigenista Missionário. “A pandemia do novo coronavírus e os povos indígenas.” Last modified 2020. https://cimi.org.br/pandemiaeospovos/
  1. Ministério da Saúde. “Saúde reforça assistência a indígenas durante pandemia do coronavírus.” Last modified Aug 12, 2020. https://www.unasus.gov.br/noticia/saude-reforca-assistencia-a-indigenas-durante-pandemia-do-coronavirus#:~:text=COVID%2D19-,Sa%C3%BAde%20refor%C3%A7a%20assist%C3%AAncia%20a%20ind%C3%ADgenas%20durante%20pandemia%20do%20coronav%C3%ADrus,aos%2034%20DSEI%20do%20pa%C3%ADs.
  1. Diário de Pernambuco. “Fake news atrapalha vacinação contra Covid-19 em comunidades indígenas.” Last modified Jan 20, 2021. https://www.diariodepernambuco.com.br/noticia/brasil/2021/01/fake-news-atrapalha-vacinacao-contra-covid-19-em-comunidades-indigenas.html

About the author

Fernanda Clara da Silva and Danielle Correia Furtado are both third year medical students at Rio Grande do Norte State University (UERN) in Mossoró, Brazil. They are member of Local Board of the International Federation of Medical Student’s Associations (IFMSA). Both believe in a world in which education is capable of changing the world, especially inequalities.

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