Last month, a previously uncontacted Amazon tribe approached scientists from the Brazilian government. Their largest concern was the potential for disease transmission.
In a recent announcement, FUNAI, Brazil‘s Indian protection agency, revealed that several members of the tribe had contracted the flu.
Five men and two women between the ages of 13 and 21 had caught the flu. Carlos Travassos, FUNAI’s general coordinator for the operation, worked with a team including doctors and two translators to ensure the tribal members received medical care.
Once contact was made, the Indians were wary of the team’s intentions, but after long deliberation, the Indians opted for treatment.
The seven members of the tribe were taken to a FUNAI base for treatment. They remained there for five days for treatment and observation.
FUNAI researchers worry that the treated Indians may bring the flu to the other members of the tribe. Tribes that have no previous encounters with the rest of world are at a much greater risk of fatal consequences from common illnesses.
An overwhelming number of Indians in the Americas died from a series of plagues after the Europeans–bringing unfamiliar pathogens with them–arrived from the Old World. Thousands of Amazonian Indians faced death during the 19th and 20th century as a result of the rubber trade, which produced violence, enslavement and disease.
This specific tribe reached out due to increasing violence and conflict in the Amazon. Their region, near the Peruvian border, has had an increased activity of drug trafficking and illegal logging.
The Indians told FUNAI that white men have shot at the tribe.
The violence that coerced the tribe to seek contact is demonstrative of the larger critical situation. The threats that isolated tribes face are becoming more urgent and prevalent.
According to Survival International, despite reassurances from both Peru and Brazil to prevent illegal logging and drug trafficking that have displaced Indians, threats continue. Worse, the traffickers have taken over the government installation intended to monitor their behavior.
In addition to this tribe, there are at least four uncontacted tribes in the Brazilian state of Acre and two across the border in Peru. The Amazon is estimated to contain the world’s largest concentration of uncontacted tribes, with approximately 70 in the Brazilian Amazon alone.
Although this immediate problem for the tribe has been handled, long-term issues remain. The fate of the tribe largely depends upon FUNAI’s efforts to ensure long-term assistance and exclusive land for the tribe.
– William Ying