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Health | World
PRI: Swine flu threatens Yanomami in Amazon


"H1N1 has now reached an indigenous group deep in the Amazon. A thousand members of the Yanomami tribe are believed to have caught the flu, seven have died.

The government of Venezuela has sealed off part of the rainforest to prevent the flu from decimating the Yanomami Indians.

Survival International is a London based indigenous rights group. It's research and field director, Fiona Watson believes the flu came in through Novaka, an area in the Yanomami territory which has the most contact with the outside world.

"There's an air strip there, there's a Catholic mission station so people who are working with the Yanomami or visiting for whatever reason, it could be doctors, government officials, people working on health and education programs, come in and out so I think it has come in that way," said Watson.

According to Watson, the Yanomami are the largest of the isolated indigenous groups in the Amazon rainforest. There are about 32 thousand Brazil and Venezuela.

"They've lived there for hundreds, if not thousands of years," said Watson. "They live by hunting and gathering and they're very much a people who are living in the forest, completely self-sufficient, and came into contact with outsiders really in any great way from the fifties onwards. And the Yanomami have very little immunity; many Amazonian tribes, remote tribes, have very little immunity to common diseases you know, which for us don't present too much of a problem like the common cold or flu. They haven't had this immunity because they’ve been so isolated."

The Yanomami have suffered from other epidemics in the past that were introduced from outside their community. Said Watson, in the fifties, border commission authorities and missionaries brought measles."

Get the Story:
H1N1 endangers Indians in the Amazon (Public Radio International 11/17)

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