Brazil: The cries of mothers of the Indigenous tribe Hup living at the Rio Negro echoes through the villages. It is deafening.

Translated by volunteering Paul Wolters

Open letter of FOIRN: FEDERATION OF INDIGENOUS ORGANIZATIONS OF THE RIO NEGRO – FOIRN


The cry of the mothers of the Hup people echoes through their villages. It’s deafening. The parents carry their children in their arms. The cemetery opens once again. Two more children. Two girls we have seen smiling, talking and walking by the houses. They began to discover the world, the rivers, the forest paths. They began to play. They received their ancestral carefully chosen by their grandparents. Their souls, newly arrived from Lago de Leite (Lake Milk) were protected against all diseases caused by fish-people, by the Thunder, by the snake-people. Unfortunately they did not resist the “diseases of the white men.” The flu and diarrhea, lack of medicines and medical care, the eternal “lack of fuel” and the ethnic discrimination vanquished again.

Everyone gathers around the small bodies. They open a grave. And cry. Cry to see /Dö’däh Höd / grow, the children’s cemetery. They cry to see their sadness and repugnance grow. Jovino, Indigenous Health Agent (AIS) says “we did not manage to hold on to life.” Like the Hupd’äh, we, doctors, nurses, indigenous leaders, researchers, politicians did not manage to safe their lives.

Weary of reports, tired of sending documents to the responsible organs, we now seek the publicity to report the chronic situation experienced by indigenous populations in the Upper Rio Negro, Amazonas, when it comes to health care.

The gradual decrease in health care service of the Special Indigenous Sanitary District of the Upper Rio Negro (DSEI-RN) since 2008 draws a bleak epidemiological picture among the 23 peoples who inhabit the largest mosaic of indigenous lands in the country. Clinical symptoms such as diarrhea, easily treatable illnesses turn into lethal diseases causing the death of dozens of children under five. Low weight turns into acute malnutrition within a few weeks. Colds, common to indigenous infancy develop into pneumonia killing dozens of children.

With 25 basic health posts (Polo Base) distributed among the six extensive rivers of the Rio Negro region, the DSEI-RN fails to assist the indigenous communities lacking permanent presence of health teams in the territories of operation.

On the Tiquié river, in 2008, four (04) children died of whooping couch in the community of Taracuá Igarapé. In November 2010, three (03) Hupd’äh children died in the same community before the arrival of DSEI rescue team. In the same period there were many children with flu and diarrhea in a community located just North, in Barreira Alta, one of them being a serious case of acute pneumonia combined with malnutrition. Rescue was solicited. Rescue was never realized.

In 2011 in the Hupd’äh Fatima community, a 2-year-old died as a result of diarrhea, according to the local indigenous health agent. In January 2012 the indigenous health agent reported that since July 2011 no health team had visited Fatima. Recently in Taracuá Igarapé on January 16, 2013, we received the news that two more children – two and one year old – died due to vomiting and diarrhea. The Hupd’äh also reported that many children suffered a viral infection.

According to information from a teacher of the Hupd’äh people, the Taracuá Igarapé community was never visited by the regional health care service, except for vaccination coverage. The children suffered the flu and some of them diarrhea. Another Hupd’äh teacher of the Barreira Alta community, also located in the Tiquié river, reported that there were several cases of the flu and diarrhea in the community, especially among children. The presence of children younger than 05 years with low weight can signal the presence of seasonal food shortages, local diseases, as well as death of malnutrition, as communities along the Tiquié river experience. It indicates neglect, omission as well as a lack of care and infrastructure.

The DSEI Alto Rio Negro (Indigenous Health Care Agency) that is responsible for the basic health care of the indigenous peoples in the municipalities of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Santa Isabel do Rio Negro and Barcelos, died five years ago as a result of poor management totally unarticulated with the goals of the national Indigenous Health Policy. The health teams are unprepared to handle an intercultural approach and the logistical chaos, so they can not offer an efficient health service. Any social control is made impossible by the government praxis.

We believe that emergency actions to combat disease outbreaks are important in the health care, and we praise the commitment of health professionals to deliver the annual immunization campaigns, however, we fight for a continuous and permanent health assistance and not an accidental one. In line with the Amerindian health perspectives we refuse a health care focused on illnesses: we wish for disease prevention and health promotion.

We want health care that takes to its ultimate consequences what the public policies have been advocating in relation to indigenous peoples and to the very struggle of social movements in defence of the SUS-health care system.

In recent years, many complaints were made by the indigenous movement to the media, to the Federal Public Ministry, to the Ministry of Health, to international organizations. It is revolting to see that nevertheless, even denouncing all this to the world, children of the Hup, Yuhup, Tukano, Desano and Kotiria peoples continue to die. We will tirelessly keep on denouncing this terrible situation until appropriate action is taken.

It is inconceivable to trivialize the death of an Indigenous child for flu or parasitic-infectious diseases. To think that emergency rescues and vaccination coverage in indigenous areas is equal to providing basic health care is returning to the time of the moving health teams, is disregarding the political commitment and professional dedication of thousands of people, indigenous and non-indigenous, who fight by a qualified health care for Brazil.

Our outrage is not personalistic, it is political. Our discourse is not limited to the absence of equipment, infrastructure and fuel, but it is directed to the political omission in relation fo the life and well-being of the indigenous peoples. We will never silence.

COLETIVO BUOPÉS – Mobilization in Defense of Indigenous Health Care

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