Brasília (AFP) – A Yanomami indigenous boy has died after contracting the coronavirus, authorities in Brazil said Friday, raising fears for the Amazon tribe, which is known for its vulnerability to disease.
The 15-year-old boy, the first Yanomami to be diagnosed with the virus, was hospitalized a week ago at an intensive care unit in Boa Vista, the capital of the northern state of Roraima, officials said.
He died of severe respiratory complications on Thursday night, the Brazilian health ministry said in a statement.
Isolated indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest are particularly vulnerable to diseases brought in from the outside world, and a Yanomami rights group said the boy had come in to contact with “many” other indigenous people after he began showing symptoms.
The Hutukara Association blamed “inadequate medical care” for the boy’s death, saying he went more than two weeks without a proper diagnosis from the time he first went to the hospital with respiratory symptoms.
It called on the authorities to track them down and help them undergo testing and self-isolation. It also urged the government to crack down on illegal gold miners on indigenous lands, believed to be the source of the contagion.
A major outbreak among indigenous communities would amount to a “genocide,” said Katia Brasil, editor at Amazonia Real news agency, which specializes in issues facing Amazonian peoples.
“This disease is very dangerous for us,” said Dario Yawarioma, a Yanomami leader.
“It’s a very sad day for the Yanomami.”
Brazil is home to an estimated 800,000 indigenous people from more than 300 ethnic groups.
The Yanomami, who are known for their face paint and intricate piercings, number around 27,000.
Largely isolated from the outside world until the mid-20th century, they were devastated by diseases such as measles and malaria in the 1970s.
The boy was studying to become a teacher in the indigenous reserve of Boqueirao, said the Hutukara Association.
He was the third indigenous person in Brazil to die after contracting the novel coronavirus, according to newspaper Globo.
The others were from the Borari and Muru ethnic groups.
At least eight indigenous patients from five ethnicities have tested positive for the virus, according to Globo.
Brazil is the country hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic in Latin America, with 1,000 deaths so far.