Brazil declares public health emergency for Yanomami people

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s government has declared a public health emergency for the Yanomami people of the Amazon who suffer from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria as a result of illegal mining.

The decree, signed by Health Minister Nisia Trindade late Friday, has no expiry date and allows for the hiring of additional personnel. It provides for the responsible team to publish reports on the health and general well-being of the indigenous people group.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva also created a multi-ministerial committee, to be coordinated by his chief of staff, for an initial period of 90 days. He travels to Roraima state capital, Boa Vista, where many sick Yanomami have been admitted to specialized hospitals.

The Yanomami are the largest indigenous group in Brazil, with a population of about 30,000 living in an area greater than 9 million hectares (22 million acres), in the northern region of the Amazon rainforest, near the border with Venezuela.

In recent years, specialists have sounded the alarm that humanitarian and sanitary crises have taken shape. The report “Yanomami Under Attack”, written by the non-profit organization Socio-Environmental Institute, points out that in 2021 the region was responsible for 50% of malaria cases in the country. The same report said more than 3,000 children were malnourished.

Illegal mining is at the root of the problems facing the Yanomami people. Activists accuse miners of death threats, sexual violence and alcohol and drug abuse, particularly against indigenous children. The same report shows that the region had more than 40 illegal airstrips made by miners and that they had taken over some of the government health centers installed in the region.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Health had already designated a team for a special health mission in the Yanomami region. Lula planned an emergency trip to Roraima state following a report by the independent local news website Sumauma, which featured shocking images of malnourished children.

According to the report, during the last four years of former President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, the deaths of children aged 5 or younger had increased by 29% compared to the previous government. The same report shows that 570 Yanomami children died between 2019 and 2022 from curable diseases.

Lula tweeted that the government received information about the “absurd situation” of malnutrition in Yanomami children. The President will be accompanied by several of his ministers in Boa Vista.

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