An inclusive response to Covid-19 threats in the Amazon

June 23, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic not only affects the health of Indigenous communities, it also exacerbates existing threats to their territories and resources. Even though the Indigenous communities have adopted voluntary self-isolation, the invasion and destruction of their lands continues. This spreads the virus further, while violating their territorial and human rights.

Hivos, through the All Eyes on the Amazon (AEA) program, has been supporting the response of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon to Covid-19 since the pandemic arrived. We see that urgent action is needed, now more than ever.

Poor access to health services

Conventional measures to combat Covid-19 do not apply to Indigenous communities. Indigenous Peoples have low immunity to infectious diseases. And their geographic isolation forces them to travel long distances to access public health services. Once they entered into self-isolation, they also had to suspend their land monitoring and defense activities. So illegal invasions and operations are expanding in the absence of an active monitoring system. This increases the risk of spreading the virus as invaders, potential carriers of Covid-19, do not take the necessary sanitary measures before entering Indigenous territories.

The pandemic is teaching us that we need to build inclusive societies that respect and protect everyone.

Inclusive response actions and support

The lockdowns in the different Amazon countries also prevent Indigenous communities from traveling to sell and buy products and food. Their remote locations and marginalized condition also restricts access to social welfare or other economic support. In this context, an inclusive strategy taking into account specific Indigenous social and cultural factors is essential to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Amazon.

That is why the All Eyes on the Amazon program supports Indigenous response actions. Right now, we are providing direct financial assistance to local Indigenous organizations for communication and education resources and food supplies, to set up a culturally appropriate health support strategy, and to organize the distribution of diagnostic tests.

Covid-19 infographic

Ecuador: the Amazonian Indigenous Health Route

In Ecuador, Hivos has set up the Amazonian Indigenous Health Route, a step-by-step model to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and improve access to health care, also in the long term. The Health Route is set up in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Health, with technical advice from the Pan American Health Organization, and in coordination with other civil society organizations.

Hivos has formed a team of professionals specialized in health care, anthropology, geography and communications to work alongside representatives of Indigenous territories and the Ministry of Public Health. So far we have made an interactive map of routes to access testing and health care (also applicable to other transmittable diseases), developed educational materials and visuals in Indigenous languages, and arranged for the donation of health supplies and 1008 complete test kits. Testing will be done by Amazon Regional University – IKIAM and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, one of AEA’s partners.

AEA Program Director Carolina Zambrano says, “We see the urgent need for Indigenous Peoples to have information about Covid-19 in their languages and for measures that ensure availability and access to culturally appropriate medical services. This initiative can become a unique model of collaborative work between academia, civil society and the public sector to effectively help the Indigenous Peoples and nationalities of Ecuador access health care.”

Brazil: communications, transparency and direct health support

Hivos is partnering with Fundação Amazonas Sustentável (FAS) to set up a telehealth base in the municipality of Barreirinhas in Amazonas – the state with the highest rates of Covid-19 infections and deaths among Indigenous communities. The telehealth base ensures Indigenous communities in remote areas of the Amazon have access to health care and reliable information about the pandemic.

Our All Eyes on the Amazon partner Greenpeace is working with Brazilian health response NGOs and APIB (Articulation of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil) to distribute health and medical supplies and bring health service staff to cities in the Amazon most affected by Covid-19 infections.

Distributing health and medical supplies to Indigenous Peoples
Distributing health and medical supplies to Indigenous Peoples. Photo: Marcos Amend, Greenpeace

Besides direct health support, Hivos is advocating for transparent, equal and inclusive access to public services, public resource allocation and policy decisions. This in a context in which Brazil is experiencing “an unprecedented historic moment of debasement and threat to democracy,” according to the open letter published by nine former Brazilian environment ministers calling for an end to the deterioration of environmental protection legislation.

A part of Hivos’ strategic support is monitoring the allocation of extraordinary resources from the Federal government to assist Indigenous Peoples. Information is extracted from public databases and systematized to support joint advocacy efforts to ensure transparency and guarantee the effective use of financial resources to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Indigenous territories.

Another fact of this strategic support is the partnership with Open Knowledge Brazil. They include Indigenous indicators in their COVID19 Transparency Index and give Indigenous communities an important tool to access and monitor public data, get quality services and see that public resources are earmarked for their benefit.

Peru: coordination with local government

AEA helps the local government and our partners in Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon respond to the Covid-19 emergency with financial and technical support. Hivos supports key communication and campaign activities, like broadcasting messages, adapted to the Indigenous culture and context, on radio to also reach the remote areas. These activities are essential considering the slow, disjointed rollout of the Covid-19 policy for Indigenous Peoples by the national government and the practical collapse of all health services in the region.

Waiting for health services for local and Indigenous Peoples
Local and Indigenous community members waiting for health services in Pucacuro, Peru. Photo: Puinamudt

Build inclusive societies

“The pandemic is teaching us that we need to build inclusive societies that respect and protect everyone. It is not only about our health. It’s also about protecting nature and thus, our future,” concludes Carolina Zambrano.