Swine flu and tribal peoples - Survival International


Swine flu and tribal peoples - Survival International

Swine fluand tribalpeoplesA Survival International Report

ABOUT SWINE FLUSwine influenza is a disease found in pigs.Although such flu is a regular occurrence,and does not normally affect people, thisparticular viral strain (H1N1) has mutated,making it possible to infect humans and betransmitted between one person and another.Swine flu is highly contagious, spreading inmuch the same way as regular flu. The viruscan live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours,and a soft surface for around 20 minutes,making it easily transferable from personto person.Although anyone is susceptible to the virus,people who are most at risk of developingcomplications from swine flu are thosewith chronic health problems, includingrespiratory, heart, kidney and liver disease. 4Hundreds of thousands of people across theworld are known to have contracted swineflu; approximately four thousand peoplehave died as a result of the virus. Most ofthe deaths have been among people withunderlying chronic health problems.THE HEALTH GAPand a shift from nomadic to settled life,Tribal peoples are at greater risk from swineflu because many are living in poverty, evenin affluent countries, with severe underlyinghealth problems. Chronic diseases such asdiabetes, heart disease and respiratorydisease are often higher in tribal communities,putting them at greater risk of complicationsfrom swine flu. According to the Lancet,‘indigenous people have much higher ratesof infection than do their non-indigenouscounterparts and these infections are likelyto be more severe or more frequently fatal’. 5This disparity stems from colonization andassimilation policies, which have seen tribalpeoples removed from their lands and forcedto abandon their traditional ways of life.Changes to diet, housing, livelihood, culture‘It is depressingly predictable,and you don’t have to evoke complexbiological explanations for it. It bringshome the well-known and quite sadfact that indigenous communities areat risk for all sorts of reasons.’Dr Andrew Pesce,President of the Australian Medical Association. 62

have had a profound impact on the healthand well being of tribal peoples. 7Many tribal peoples who have lost their landsand ways of life suffer poor living conditions,including overcrowding and poor sanitation,poor nutrition and greater exposure toinfections. As a result, many suffer diseasesof poverty including tuberculosis, and skinand respiratory infections. For many tribalcommunities there has not been a significantincrease in medical provision, and reliableaccess to good healthcare remains unavailableand/or unaffordable.Simultaneously, many poor, displaced tribalpeoples also suffer from diseases of affluence,such as diabetes and obesity, as a result ofrapidly changing lifestyles. A change in dietto high-calorie, fatty foods, coupled withdecreased physical activity and alcohol anddrug misuse, has had a profound impacton indigenous peoples’ health. ‘Diabetes,cardiovascular disease, and tobacco useaccount for half of the indigenous health gap’,not to mention the mental health problemsand disproportionately high levels of suicidethat accompany such a change in lifestyle. 8Underlying all these illnesses is dislocationfrom ancestral lands, marginalization andloss of an independent livelihood. Wheretribal people live independently on theirown lands, eating traditional foods, theycan continue to be healthy and strong,and their communities thrive. 9Thrown off their lands, many Brazilian Guaraniare forced to live by the side of the road. Thislevel of poverty puts them at greater risk ofcomplications from swine flu.THE IMPACT OF SWINE FLUIt is difficult to accurately assess the impactof swine flu on tribal peoples, given thatstatistics are constantly changing as thevirus continues to spread, and also becauseof the lack of research into populations thatare at higher risk. However, looking at whatis happening in Australia and Canada, wecan see the disparity between indigenousand non-indigenous health come into play,as the virus sweeps through the countries’indigenous communities.First Nations in Manitoba, Canada,have seen infection rates of 130 per100,000 compared to 24 per 100,00for the general population.‘I firmly believe that thispandemic will reveal – in a highlyvisible, measurable, and tragicway – exactly what it means, inlife-and-death terms, when healthneeds and health systems havebeen neglected, for decades,in large parts of the world.WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. 10’3

CANADANative Canadians are in much poorer healthgenerally than their non-native neighbours.They have high rates of chronic diseasesincluding obesity, diabetes, heart diseaseand alcoholism, and have a life expectancyof 7.4 years (men) and 5.2 years (women)less than the respective all-Canada statistics. 11The Canadian government has describeda ‘rising epidemic’ of type 2 diabetes amongthe First Nations communities, with Nativepeople 420% more likely to die from diabetesthan their non-Native counterparts. 12 Obesityis also a major problem, with up to 30% ofInuit women now diagnosed as clinicallyobese. 13Swine fluCanada’s indigenous population has beenhard hit by swine flu with aboriginal leadersdeclaring a state of emergency in responseto the high rates of infection among FirstNations people. The country’s prime minister,Stephen Harper, has expressed concern aboutthe levels of swine flu among First Nationscommunities, saying, ‘We are very concerned,obviously, about H1N1 generally and, inparticular, the high incidence we’ve seen inaboriginal communities, particularly inManitoba.’ 14First Nations communities in the provinceof Manitoba have been badly affected bythe pandemic. It has been reported thatwhile the swine flu infection rate in thegeneral population has seen an infectionrate of 24 per 100,000, First Nations inManitoba have seen rates of 130 per100,000, and they constitute the majorityof those in intensive care in the province. 15Health clinics in the Split Lake Cree FirstNation, about 120 km north of Winnipeg,have been overwhelmed and the schoolhad to be closed as so many childrencontracted swine flu. Mike Moose, healthdirector for the community, told CBC Newsthat the community had received noresources and simply wasn’t preparedto deal with the outbreak. 16Overcrowding has been blamed for the spreadof the virus among native communities. GlenSanderson, a policy analyst for Manitoba’snorthern First Nation communities, hasdescribed reserves as a ‘breeding ground forthe virus to spread’, adding that ‘when you’vegot as many as 11 people walking around thehouse, it really will spread to everybody’. 17That Canada’s native population has beendisproportionately affected by the recentstrain of swine flu is nothing new. The samedisparity has been seen in previous fluoutbreaks, including the 1918 Spanish fluwhich saw various indigenous communitiesdevastated by the virus. The village of Cris,Manitoba, for example, saw 20% of thepopulation die over a six-week period. 18Ethan Rubinstein, professor of infectiousdiseases at University of Manitoba, hassuggested that the current swine flu pandemicwill follow much the same pattern as the 1918Spanish flu, though he does not expect thesame death toll. 19Government’s responseIn response to the outbreak, the Assembly ofManitoba Chiefs turned to corporate donationsin a bid to raise $1.5 million to buy medical kitsfor First Nations communities in the province.Grand Chief Ron Evans told the CanadianPress that First Nations people could not wait‘to see what the federal government is goingto do’. 20The Manitoba government has appointeda special health adviser to work withFirst Nations communities on swine flu.However, the federal government has beenheavily criticized for its handling of theoutbreak among the indigenous population,4

AUSTRALIAparticularly its failure to deliver much-neededmedical supplies to vulnerable communities.Health Canada, the country’s department ofhealth, came under fierce criticism from theAssembly of Manitoba Chiefs after it delayeddelivery of hand sanitizers (waterlessantibacterial hand-washing products) toremote First Nations communities. Althoughmany households in Manitoba’s reserves donot have access to clean water with which towash their hands, the department spent twoweeks debating whether to send the sanitizers.Their fear was that people living in reservecommunities, where there are high rates ofalcoholism, would attempt to ingest thealcohol in the sanitizers.The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs saidsome communities had to wait almost amonth before they received the sanitizersthey needed to fend off swine flu. Dr KimBarker, a physician who works for theAssembly, is reported to have said, ‘We heardthat ... people were spending days discussingthe pros and cons of a non-alcohol-basedhand sanitizer versus an alcohol-based onebecause of the concerns about addictions incommunities. It was absolutely outrageous.’ 21Like Native Canadians, Aborigines acrossAustralia are typically in much poorer healththan their non-indigenous counterparts. Onaverage, their life expectancy is 15-20 yearslower and they are 22 times more likely to diefrom diabetes, 8 times more likely to die ofcoronary heart disease, 8 times more likely todie from lung disease and 6 times more likelyto die from a stroke than the national average. 23One major factor that explains thesedifferences is poverty: average incomesof the aboriginal population are only 62%of those of the non-indigenous population. 24Aborigines have poor housing, poor accessto resources – including health resources– and a lethal combination of loss of traditionalknowledge coupled with a lack of education.Such poverty has given rise to a multitude ofchronic illnesses, leaving Aborigines especiallyvulnerable to the swine flu pandemic.In the Garden Hill First Nations community,the government’s delay led Chief DavidHarper to take $15,000 from the community’seducation fund to buy supplies in response toan outbreak of swine flu on the reserve. Afterwaiting weeks for the supplies, Harper usedmoney intended to buy laptops for students,to stock up on masks and hand sanitizers.A week after the $15,000 was spent, 2,500bottles of government-issued hand sanitizerwere delivered. 22The life expectancy of Australian Aboriginesis 15-20 years less than other Australians.5

Swine fluAt the time of writing, tens of thousandsof people in Australia are known to havecontracted swine flu. However, it seems thatthe country’s indigenous population has beenthe worst affected group, as Aboriginal peopleaccount for almost one in ten of the fatalities,despite only accounting for 2% of the totalpopulation.Indeed, the country’s first fatality from thevirus was a 26 year-old Aboriginal man fromKirrikurra community in Western Australia. Theman was known to suffer from a number ofserious illnesses prior to contracting swine flu.Swine flu has hit residents of the country’slargest Aboriginal community on Palm Island,north Queensland. The most recent victim ofswine flu was a young pregnant woman wholost her unborn baby after contracting the virusand was left in a critical condition.Poor living conditions have been blamedfor the spread of the virus, as residentsstruggle with overcrowding, giving rise tochronic health problems and poor nutrition.Associate Professor Gracelyn Smallwood,who has worked on indigenous health forover 40 years, told the Australian, ‘If you havea population of 3,000 people with only 300houses, then people are vulnerable… it’snot Einstein stuff.’ 25Swine flu has also spread across Aboriginalcommunities in the Northern Territory; at thetime of writing, half of the 78 swine flu casesare indigenous people and of the threefatalities in the area, two were Aboriginalpeople. It is perhaps no coincidence thatamong Aboriginal communities in the NorthernTerritory, only 13% of settled householdssurveyed had functioning water, waste,cooking and cleaning facilities. 26promised free flu shots for Aborigines, alongwith other ‘high risk’ groups including pregnantwomen and the chronically ill.In response to the outbreak on PalmIsland, a special clinic has been set up andsupplies of anti-viral drugs have been flownin. However, community elders have criticizedthe government for its handling of theepidemic, arguing that government advicehas not reached their communities.Speaking to the New York Times about theAustralian government’s failure to take intoconsideration the needs of the country’sAborigine population, Alf Lacey, the mayorof Palm Island, said, ‘There are a lot of barriersin terms of culture and particularly culturalawareness for people who are working inAboriginal communities. Putting up a genericposter isn’t going to do much good if you’redealing with people who can’t read.’ 27WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?Canada and Australia’s experience showsthat tribal peoples are more vulnerable toswine flu than their non-tribal counterpartsand sends a clear signal to other countriesto make special provisions for theirindigenous populations.Professor Michael Gracey, Professor ofAboriginal Health at Curtin University, hasexpressed concern about what Australiaand Canada’s experience could mean forindigenous peoples in developing countries.‘These countries [developing countries]have very large indigenous populations andthey do not have the underlying publichealth infrastructure and preventiveprograms and the capability for dealingwith pandemics that Canada, Australia,and the U.S. do.’ 28Government’s ResponseFollowing concerns about their vulnerabilityto swine flu, the Australian government has6

ISOLATED AND RECENTLY-CONTACTED PEOPLESPerhaps the greatest cause for concern arethe world’s isolated peoples, those with littleor no regular contact with non-indigenouspopulations, and those who have recentlybeen contacted by outsiders. Such peopleslack immunity to outside diseases – even thecommon cold can prove fatal to tribes whohave never been exposed to the virus before– making them extremely vulnerable to aswine flu pandemic.Swine flu has already reached the PeruvianAmazon, with seven members of theMatsigenka tribe testing positive for thevirus. Although all seven have now recovered,it raises fears of a contagion amongneighbouring uncontacted tribes wholack immunity to outside diseases.‘Isolated tribes have no immunityto the infectious diseases thatcirculate through our industrialsociety and will be particularlysusceptible to swine flu. Thiscould be devastating, infectingwhole communities simultaneously,leaving no-one to care for thesick or bring in and prepare food.Dr Stafford Lightman, Professor of Medicine,University of Bristol. 29’In Brazil, the Conference on IndigenousEducation, scheduled for 21st September,was cancelled because of the risk of swineflu. 30 There are also reports of Indians in Brazilfleeing riverbanks into the forests to escapecontact with outsiders carrying the virus. 31Such fear is justified. History has shownthat entire communities can be wiped outby the introduction of diseases. For example,between 1967 and 1975 one Yanomamicommunity in Roraima, Brazil, was totallywiped out by measles. Other villages in thearea suffered a dramatic population declineof up to 70% because of diseases spreadby road builders. 32Seven members of the Matsigenka tribehave already tested positive for swine flu.7

Travel and tourismIsolated tribes have long been an attractionfor tourists keen to catch a glimpse of suchpeoples. Tourist developments have been builtin areas close to isolated tribes, and there areeven ‘first contact’ expeditions on offer,apparently promising tourists the chance tocontact uncontacted tribes. Even at the bestof times, such tourism can spell disaster forisolated tribes who find themselves unwittinglyexposed to diseases previously unknown tothem. But at a time of a global pandemic, suchventures are cause for even greater concern.International travel is central to the spreadof swine flu and other infectious diseases.A study conducted by infectious diseasephysician Dr Kamran Khan accuratelypredicted the spread of the swine flu virusby tracing the destinations of passengersleaving Mexico. Their findings showed aclear connection between the internationaldestination of air passengers and the spreadof the virus across the world. 33Research has shown that aircraft passengersdevelop colds with a higher than normalfrequency the week following their flights,and findings show an average of 20% ofpassengers develop such infections afterflights. 34 Tourists just stepping off internationalflights therefore play a key role in the spreadof swine flu, carrying the virus from countryto country. And those who move straightfrom the airport to areas of close proximityto isolated tribes risk introducing the virusto some of the most vulnerable peoples inthe world.However, the WHO has dismissed attemptsto screen passengers on entry and exit asfutile, arguing that they do not work to reducethe spread of swine flu. It also argues thatimposing travel restrictions on passengerswould have little effect on stopping the spreadof the virus, advising countries to focus insteadon minimizing the impact of severe outbreaks. 35One tribe in the US postponed a majorvillage event for fear of international visitorsintroducing swine flu to the community. TheHavasupai tribe, whose village in the GrandCanyon flooded last August, postponed there-opening of the community. MatthewPutesoy, village vice-chairman, said, ‘We’rea small isolated community. People comefrom all over the world to visit and even thoughwe’ve lost our economy, we couldn’t takethe risk’. 36However, most isolated tribes are not in aposition to control who enters their lands. Aspassengers continue to travel internationally,swine flu continues to spread and the risk ofthe virus to isolated peoples increases.There have been various attempts to curbthe spread of swine flu by international flights.Some airline companies, including BritishAirways and Virgin Atlantic, have startedpreventing people displaying symptoms ofthe virus from boarding flights and there havealso been attempts to screen passengers forthe virus at airports, using thermoscanners tocheck for fevers, one of the key symptoms ofswine flu.As passengers continue to travel internationallyand swine flu continues to spread, the risk of thevirus to isolated peoples increases.8

JARAWAThe Jarawa are nomadic and self-sufficient,and have only had contact with outsiderssince 1998. The majority of the tribe livedeep in the forest, isolated from the islands’mainstream population, which makes themvulnerable to epidemics. In 1999, manyJarawa suffered from respiratory tractcomplications after a measles outbreak;50% of the population are thought tohave contracted measles at this time. 37However some, mostly younger membersof the Jarawa do have contact with non-tribalpeople through the Andaman Trunk Road thatcuts though the heart of the tribe’s reserve.The Road brings the Jarawa into contact withtourists and settlers who risk passing swineflu on to the tribe.The Jarawa also risk contracting swineflu from tourists as a result of resorts closeto their reserve. For example, Barefoot,a travel company with resorts in theAndamans, recently opened a newresort situated dangerously close to theJarawa reserve. Although there are otherdevelopments bringing the Jarawa in closercontact with outsiders, including the TrunkRoad, the international nature of Barefoot’sclientele significantly increases the risk ofexposing the tribe to swine flu and otherpotentially fatal infections. Visitors to theresort are likely to have very recentlytravelled on international flights.Survival is calling for the Andamans’administration to take emergency actionto minimize contact between the Jarawaand outsiders at this time. This includesclosing the Andaman Trunk Road, and forall tourist resorts and attractions withinthe proposed 5km buffer zone from thereserve to be closed.LOSS OF LANDIsolated tribes face threats from oilworkers, illegal loggers, ranchers andsettlers encroaching on their land andJarawa by the side of the Andaman TrunkRoad, which runs through the tribe’s land.bringing with them a multitude of diseases andinfections previously unknown to the people.In Peru, Perenco, an Anglo-French company,has a huge oil project in the country’s northernAmazon, in an area inhabited by at least twouncontacted tribes. One of the tribes isbelieved to be a sub-group of the Waorani,and the other is known as the Pananujuri.Perenco claims the area is uninhabited, butthe Peruvian government, the Ecuadoriangovernment, local indigenous organizationsand countless experts have all recognizedthe presence of isolated Indians in the area.Despite the overwhelming evidence, Perencoplans to transport between 1,400 and 1,680workers into the area, risking the introductionof disease and infection, including swine flu.Similarly, in Paraguay, the isolated Ayoreo-Totobiegosode face threats from landspeculators and ranchers invading theirlands in the Chaco, a vast expanse of dense,scrubby forest stretching from Paraguay toBolivia and Argentina. Their territory is nowbeing rapidly cleared by private landownersand wealthy cattle-ranching businesses.Some of the Ayoreo came out of the forestsin 1998 and 2004, as a result of continualinvasion of their lands. However, many remainuncontacted and particularly vulnerable to theintroduction of diseases from workers invadingtheir lands.9

Survival has long been calling for the landrights of isolated peoples to be recognizedand protected. However, in times of a globalpandemic, this takes on an added urgency.Any encroachment on their land couldintroduce swine flu to isolated tribes,with disastrous consequences.CONCLUSION‘As leaders of a vulnerablepopulation living in Third Worldconditions, First Nations deserveno less attention.’Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. 38The current swine flu pandemic hasaffected hundreds of thousands of peopleacross the globe. However, it has hitindigenous populations in Australia andCanada particularly hard, serving to highlightthe disparity between indigenous and nonindigenoushealth, which although well known,has remained largely unaddressed.The threat of swine flu to isolated and recentlycontacted tribes is real and cause for greatconcern, particularly given that the virus hasalready reached areas very close to where suchpeoples live. The introduction of the virus toisolated tribes, as with any other new disease,could have devastating consequences.Survival is urging governments and healthcareagencies across the world to make specialprovisions for tribal peoples during the swineflu pandemic, particularly:• Ensuring that information about swine flu ismade available to tribal peoples in appropriateformats and languages;• Alerting health professionals tothe elevated risk of the virus to tribalcommunities;• Educating tribal communities’ healthworkers about the disease, its symptomsand ways of minimizing transmission;• Quickly providing tribes with necessarysupplies of medications and other equipment;• Taking all possible steps to protect isolatedtribal communities from forced contact withoutsiders, including closing roads, resortsand other operations that threaten the tribes’isolation;• Immediately removing all illegal loggers,oil workers, ranchers and poachers operatingon lands belonging to isolated or uncontactedpeoples.Governments need to acknowledgethe vulnerability of tribal peoples to thevirus and take special measures to ensurethat indigenous communities are wellequipped to deal with an outbreak.10

Footnotes1Vancouver Sun, July 3 20092http://www.who.int/csr/don/2009_08_28/en/index.html3http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/notes/h1n1_second_wave_20090828/en/index.html4http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Pandemic-flu/Pages/QA.aspx5Gracey, M and M. King. 2009. Indigenous health part 1: determinants and disease patterns. The Lancet, vol. 374:686http//www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/world/asia/16australia.html7Survival International, 2008. Progress can kill p.108Gracey, M and M King. 2009. Indigenous health part 1: determinants and disease patterns. The Lancet, vol. 374:729Survival International, 2008. Progress can kill p.110UN/Global Health Forum, 15 June 2009, New York11Survival International, 2008. Progress can kill, p.1112Survival International, 2008. Progress can kill, p.1113Survival International, 2008. Progress can kill, p.1914http://www2.canada.com/topics/news/story.html?id=173269015http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/07/16/people-at-risk/#more-6959216http://www.cbc.ca/canada/manitoba/story/2009/06/08/mb-influenza-winnipeg.html17http://www.cbc.ca/canada/manitoba/story/2009/06/08/mb-influenza-winnipeg.html18http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/world/07/29/09/canada-natives-fear-swine-flu-spread-coming-months19http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/world/07/29/09/canada-natives-fear-swine-flu-spread-coming-months20http://www.macleans.ca/canada/wire/article.jsp?content=n1970461421http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090623/first_nations_/2009062322http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/06/26/the-unseen-costs-of-swine-flu23Survival International, 2008. Progress can kill, p.1224Survival International, 2008. Progress can kill, p.1225The Australian, July 22 200926Survival International, 2008. Progress can kill, p.1327http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/world/asia/16australia.html28http://www.vancouversun.com/health/swineflu/Swine+potential+devastate+indigenous+populations+worldwide+medical+journal+reports/1754987/story.html29Correspondence with Survival International30http://www.agenciabrasil.gov.br/31Terra Noticias, August 19 200932Survival International, 2008. Progress can kill, p.433The Canadian Press, June 29 200934Hocking and Foster, 2004. Common cold transmission in commercial aircraft: industry and passenger implications.Journal of Environmental Health Research, Vol.3, Issue 135WHO, May 7 2009, Global Alert and Response36http://motherearthjournal.blogspot.com/2009/05/h1n1-flu-spreads-to-over-20-states.html37The High Court commissioned Expert Committee on Health and Hygiene 2003 described the respiratory tract infection as‘a major killer disease among the Jarawas’.38http://www.manitobachiefs.com/index1.html© Survival 2009.Photos: p2 & 3: Guarani mother and child, Brazil © João Ripper/Survival;p5: Aborigine woman, Alice Springs, Australia © Ceanne Jansen/Survival;p7 (top): Uncontacted tribe, Brazil © Gleison Miranda/FUNAI; (bottom):Matsigenka children, Peru © Survival; p8: Remote Uru Eu Wau Wau village,Brazil © Fiona Watson/Survival; p9: Jarawa, Andaman Islands © Salomé/Survival; p10: Yanomami girl, Brazil © Victor Englebert/Survival.Survival International6, Charterhouse Buildings,London EC1M 7ET, UKT + 44 (0)20 7687 8700info@survivalinternational.orgwww.survivalinternational.org

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