March 18, 2012

Modern-Day Genocide of Indigenous People

Epidemics of Hepatitis and Malaria Ignored by Health Officials


Matses Press ReleasesIquitos, Peru, March 18, 2012 – During the 1960’s the Peruvian Air Force waged an open campaign of genocide against indigenous people when they bombed villages of the Matsés tribe located deep in the Amazon Rainforest.  Today forty years later, the Peruvian government is still effectively practicing genocide by ignoring epidemics of hepatitis and malaria within Matsés communities that if occurred elsewhere, would receive appropriate medical support.  Incredibly, not a single health care professional provides medical care in the 14 Matsés communities in Peru with a population of over 2,000 natives. 


In many Matsés communities, hepatitis is the leading cause of death with mortality rates of over ten percent per year in some villages.  The epidemic is due to the lack of availability of clean water and by the Peruvian Ministry of Health not providing hepatitis vaccinations.  Not even very basic health care, such as vaccinations, is provided to these indigenous people.  Health care professionals say that inexpensive preventive measures, such as providing wells and vaccines, could easily stop this epidemic which has the potential to destroy the Matsés people and with it their native culture. 


Sidney Possuelo, the renowned coordinator of Isolated Indians in the National Indian Foundation in Brazil (FUNAI), concurs that governmental health authorities are neglecting their responsibilities.  He believes if the same situation occurred outside of the indigenous communities, that the health authorities would order a quarantine and address the problem instead of ignoring this epidemic of hepatitis.


Similarly, malaria has reached epidemic levels and is decimating the Matsés people.  To make matters worse, the strain of malaria present is often quinine-resistant meaning that conventional quinine drugs are ineffective.  In cases such as this, the World Health Organization recommends switching protocols to include an artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT).  Artemisinin is derived from plant-extracts from Artemisia species.  The Peruvian Ministry of Health has yet to implement the World Health Organizations recommendations to provide ACT in areas where quinine-resistant malaria occurs.  In fact, the Peruvian government provides no malaria treatment or other medical support to the Matsés communities. 


The treatment of indigenous people in Peru is in stark contrast to Brazil where in April of 2006 the government implemented "Vaccination Month for Indigenous People.”  Two-thousand health professionals gave hepatitis and other vaccinations to approximately 37 thousand Indians from 103 different ethnic groups.  The campaign was promoted by the National Health Foundation (FUNASA) and was supported by the Brazilian Ministry of Health and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO).  Ironically, the Matsés live on Peru’s border with Brazil, yet those living in Peru are unable to receive the quality of medical support available on the other side of the border due to current Peruvian policies with respect to indigenous people. 


The Matsés Movement has been attempting to negotiate an agreement with the Peruvian Ministry of Health to provide essential health care, but lack of funds has been an obstacle.  The Ministry of Health has the needed health professionals but lacks resources for medicines and transporting personnel to the isolated area where the Matsés people live. 


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