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Dozens of indigenous children suffering from malnutrition and acute diseases have been hospitalized in northern Brazil, with relatives in hammocks holding their emaciated frames in scenes that underscore the gravity of a public health crisis.
The health secretary of Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima state, said on Friday that 59 indigenous children were currently at the only pediatric hospital in the state, 45 of them from the Yanomami people. Eight were under intensive care.
That compares to a total 703 hospitalizations in all of last year, the secretary said, noting that most children have been taken to hospital for acute diarrhea, gastroenterocolitis, malnutrition, pneumonia and malaria.
Brazil’s government last week declared a medical emergency in the Yanomami territory, the country’s largest indigenous reservation, after reports of children dying of malnutrition and other diseases caused by illegal gold mining.
“Malnutrition is the biggest problem right now,” Boa Vista Health Secretary Regiane Matos told Reuters in an interview. “These people were forgotten in their communities. In recent years it has only gotten worse, and what we want now are solutions”.
She said illegal mining in the region “aggravated” the crisis, severely polluting the territory’s crucial waterways, where Yanomamis get their water and food.
Officials have called the crisis a “genocide,” blaming the administration of former President Jair Bolsonaro for the neglect, with some saying the territory now looks like a “concentration camp”.
The reservation has been invaded by illegal miners for decades, but incursions multiplied after Bolsonaro won office in 2018 promising to allow mining on previously protected lands.
“The invaders contaminated and destroyed the rivers, and people have been drinking dirty water,” said the head of the local Yanomami health council, Junior Hekurari Yanomami, adding that malaria cases have also spiked in recent years.
The Yanomami calls for government to combat the disease were not responded, he said, accusing the Bolsonaro administration of “negligence”.
On Thursday, Brazil’s Supreme Court said in a statement it had noticed signs that the Bolsonaro government had failed to comply with court decisions aimed at protecting the Yanomamis.
At the Boa Vista pediatric hospital, Reuters witnessed several indigenous children so thin their ribs were visible.
Their parents called out for help.
“Many are sick, there is no food!” said Marcelo Yanomami, the father of one hospitalized child. “Many of our relatives have died. Many Yanomami have died.”
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited the region last week. Brazil’s Air Force on Friday opened a field hospital in Boa Vista to provide care for some 700 Yanomami people, in addition to flights delivering food in the region.
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