Survival International: Peru Amazon Indians struck by swine flu ‘for first time’

The first cases of swine flu – also known as the AH1N1 virus – have recently been confirmed among Amazonian Indians, raising experts’ fears of a devastating contagion amongst peoples with no immunity to outside diseases, reported London-based Survival International.

Last week, Peru’s Health Ministry reported that seven Matsiguenga tribe natives living along Peru’s Urubamba River tested positive for swine flu. These natives have intermittent contact with more isolated and vulnerable tribes, living deep in Peru’s jungle.

Although Health Minister Oscar Ugarte minimized the threat and the possibility that the AH1N1 virus may spread quickly in sparsely populated jungle areas, Survival International reported that experts fear a devastating contagion amongst peoples with no immunity to outside diseases.

“The arrival of swine flu amongst the Matsiguenga is especially worrying as they are known to have intermittent contact with quite isolated Indian groups living nearby,” said Anthropologist Dr. Glenn Shepard, an expert on the Matsiguenga natives.

“Isolated tribes have no immunity to the infectious diseases that circulate though our industrial society and will be particularly susceptible to swine flu,” added Dr. Stafford Lightman, Professor of Medicine at Bristol University. “This could be devastating, infecting whole communities simultaneously, leaving no-one to care for the sick or bring in and prepare food.”

According to Survival International, tribal peoples across the world are particularly vulnerable to swine flu, as many have poor immunity, live in poverty, and have high rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

Clinio Categari Cashiari, a Matsiguenga community leader, has asked to government for help, insisting that it is very difficult – if not impossible – for his people to access medical care and clinics.

“Isolated tribes across the world already face threats from illegal loggers, ranchers, poachers, and even over-zealous tourists, encroaching on their lands and bringing diseases against which they have no immunity,” said Survival’s Director, Stephen Corry. “In times of a global pandemic, it is even more important than ever that their land rights are recognized and protected before it is too late.”

In Peru, 6,121 people have so far been infected by the swine flu, and 62 have died from the virus.

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