Two human rights groups have released a report asking Brazil to act urgently before COVID-19 causes “devastating” and “irreparable” harm to the country’s 305 Indigenous tribes that represent about 900,000 people.
The report by The Observatory, an international group, and Justiça Global, a Brazilian group, points to President Jair Bolsonaro’s lack of a cohesive and rigorous COVID-19 policy and other geographic and governmental challenges that threaten vulnerable communities like the Indigenous populations. “The budget of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), the agency responsible for promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples, was reduced by 90% shortly after Bolsonaro took office,” says the report. “Furthermore, despite the emergency situation, only 39% of federal funding to combat the pandemic among indigenous peoples was actually disbursed.”
Globally, Brazil, India, and the United States are the leading countries for COVID-19 infections, each with over 11 million cases. However, Bolsonaro has famously spread misinformation about the vaccines (like that the vaccines would turn people into crocodiles), stalled on imposing mask mandates and declared that he would refuse to take the vaccine.
On Jan. 17, Brazil began its vaccination rollout, which included and prioritized its Indigenous populations, but experts are concerned that operations aren’t moving quickly enough. According to the Health Ministry, 270,000 Indigenous people have been vaccinated with at least the first dose of the two-dose vaccines and 152,000 have already had the second dose. However, territories like Karão Jaguaribaras in the state of Ceará, outside the Amazon, haven’t had access to vaccinations, as their lands are not legally recognized. Additionally, Indigenous people living in cities are reported not to have been included in the groups with priority, which threatens to spread the virus.
An online campaign aimed at Indigenous communities is trying to encourage vaccinations through the hashtag #VacinaParente, which translates to “vaccinate relatives.”