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25% of Brazilian Indian Group in Amazon Have Malaria and Hepatitis

The Indigenous Council of the Vale do Javari Land (Civaja) drew attention to the health situation of indigenous people living in the Vale do Javari land, one of the largest in Brazil, totaling in total 8.5 million hectares, located in the state of Amazonas.

In August, the council reported that a high number of indigenous people had malaria and hepatitis. According to Civaja, the rate of this last disease increased because of the lack of preventive actions.

"The number of infected people can be as high as 25% in a population of 3,500 indigenous people," said the Council in a letter.

Cijava also reported a high number of malaria cases. "Medicines to treat patients are lacking and the means for health care teams to get to the villages are precarious."

Malaria control programs are based on early diagnosis and treatment and for this purpose it is important to have diagnosis stations staffed with trained agents, as well as means to control the mosquito and reduce the transmission rate of the disease.

Reports of people who visited the area recently revealed the absence of doctors in the region. According to their information, the only health professionals who worked in the indigenous land about a month ago were four nursing technicians. And the salaries of Indigenous Health Agents were at least four months late.

Civaja reported 23 deaths caused by diseases this year, four of which by hepatitis. Funasa confirmed 17 deaths in the area, of which one was caused by malaria and one by hepatitis.

Funasa’s press advisory department reported that "regarding the outbreak of viral hepatitis, Funasa has been acting together with the Tropical Medicine Institute for one year to isolate infected people in order to avoid the spread of the disease.

"As for malaria, Funasa took several measures to combat the malaria-transmitting mosquito, which included spraying the area with appropriate products. Today, the disease is under control in the region." 

There were other hepatitis outbreaks, which killed several people in 2001 and 2003.

"The situation is very serious and no delays and incompetence should be tolerated. The Health District must be set up urgently, and people trained. To begin to deal with the high number of people with hepatitis, vaccines must be administered at regular intervals. One of the reasons that the disease spread has to do with the fact that the vaccine was not appropriately administered," said Beatriz de Almeida Mattos, member of the team of the Indigenous Work Center (CTI).

She reported that one of the teachers with whom she directly worked  died of hemorrhagic hepatitis and that four people in a group of 15 teachers were infected.

According to Professor Pedro Luiz Tauil, a doctor of the Social Medicine Department of the University of Brasí­lia, the fact that people are dying because of the sickness is "serious", because vaccines against hepatitis are available.

Immunization, however, can only be ensured if three doses of the vaccine are administered during a 180-day period. And the vaccines must be kept cooled until they are administered

"Since 2002, Funasa has not managed to vaccinate people more than twice a year. Since 1995, it is a known fact that failing to administer the vaccine in the required periodicity would jeopardize any actions to stop the epidemic," said Civaja, which was in charge of the agreement signed with Funasa until 2004.

Civaja itself proposed solutions: "There are preventive measures that could solve  (…) the problem, among which carrying out search actions in all the villages located in the indigenous area, carrying out immunization campaigns against hepatitis systematically, and raising the awareness of indigenous people to the importance of preventing the disease, among many other similar measures."

Funasa reported that an agreement was signed late in September with an NGO called Assessevaja, under which the Foundation would provide vaccines and medicines and the organization would hire health professionals.

According to the agreement, 115 professionals would be hired, including 55 Indigenous Health Agents, two Indigenous Sanitation Agents, eight epidemiology assistants, and other professionals.

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