March 20, 2020

International Working Group on the Protection of Indigenous Peoples Living in Voluntary Isolation and Initial Contact in the Amazon and in the Gran Chaco

(Read the statement in Spanish and Português)

The International Working Group on Indigenous Peoples Living in Voluntary Isolation and Initial Contact in the Amazon and Chaco (PIACI WG) which includes 20 indigenous organizations and allies from seven countries in South America, offers to the global public recommendations on the necessary procedures to be in the face of the COVID-19 Pandemic in order to protect PIACI populations.

Global society is now experiencing "involuntary isolation" from the Pandemic. In this sense it is expected, at the very least, that non-indigenous western society will now understand the real meaning of being vulnerable to a virus, for which there is no vaccine. 

PIACI have been experiencing this situation of vulnerability for centuries and, at this moment, we can understand at least one of the reasons that leads them to exercise their self-determination by isolating themselves and not accepting any type of contact with people outside their group. This “geographical isolation” is a protective measure that guarantees their survival.

In view of this COVID-19 Pandemic situation, the PIACI WG recommends the following:

  • PIACI are highly vulnerable to viruses that cause infectious diseases. These people have no immunity to most infectious diseases. Just like Westerners do not have immunity against COVID-19.
  • On this subject, the Indigenous Peoples have lived, since the European colonization, a dramatic population reduction (why not say genocide) caused by diseases brought by the colonizers. More conservative estimates indicate that the indigenous population in South America (Amazon) decreased by 25% between 1492 to 1650.
  • From the perspective of respect for self-determination, nation states must take immediate steps to implement a sanitary cordon / isolation that prevents strangers and agents from the State from entering the territories of these peoples. 
  • It would be contradictory, when in the moment is of social isolation, the State, under the pretext of the propagation of COVID-19, makes the policy of non-contact more flexible, following the example of the Ordinance published by FUNAI (Ordinance No. 419 / PRES, OF 17 MARCH 2020), its own Internal Regulations, and in addition, in this same Ordinance, it makes this decision more flexible and moves it to include instances other than the General Coordination of Isolated Peoples and Recent Contact, which is designated as responsible for this purpose.
  • The high transmissibility demonstrated by COVID-19 in other countries (R0 = 2.74), is greater than that of H1N1, its proven transmission by objects, hands, and the customs and living conditions common in indigenous communities demands special attention on the part of health authorities.
  • The moment is urgent and it is still possible to adopt measures that prevent transmission. It is imperative that the bodies and departments of each State, responsible for the protection policies of the PIACI, implement the following measures:
    • Intensify the surveillance and protection actions of the territories since many of them are invaded by miners, drug traffickers, loggers, land grabbers, missionaries, tourists etc., and use all state apparatus to face these illicit actions. 
    • Talk to the Indians contacted from the surrounding areas or who share territory with PIACI, making them aware of the importance of not contacting the PIACI.
  • In the case of indigenous populations with a history of contact and who share territory or borders with the territories of the PIACI, we recommend:
    • Primary prevention - seek ways to prevent COVID-19 from entering villages:
      • Have strict control over the entry of people in the IT, including health professionals, visitors and partner institutions who will be tested for COVID-19 and undergo a medical evaluation before entering indigenous territories.
      • Administer the test for COVID-19 on the indigenous in transit, and on the return to their communities. If positive or unable to test, quarantine before entering the indigenous area.
      • Seek dialogue with indigenous leaders and with the indigenous movement to jointly search for alternatives to face the pandemic. These conversations can be made by virtual means such as radio and internet or in person, with care being taken to avoid the transmission of COVID-19
      • Prioritize Information for indigenous communities considering Indians as fundamental partners to face the pandemic, producing information in appropriate language in the form of videos, podcasts, messages, social networks addressing:
        • Respiratory etiquette
        • Hand washing
        • Sharing utensils
        • Avoid agglomerations - meetings / parties
        • Postponing events already scheduled
        • Avoid circulation between communities and cities (COVID-19 is in cities / likes places with enough people together)
        • Possibility of Isolation (camps in the "bush")
        • Strict control of access to Indigenous Lands - 
        • Quarantine for travelers
        • Suspension of religious services in communities
    • Secondary Prevention - early detection of cases 
      • Mass tests before entering indigenous territories
      • Tests in the communities where there are cases of individuals with respiratory symptoms
      • Qualification and training of indigenous health agents
      • Early warning system / Recording of cases
      • Adequate water supply to the communities
      • Inputs and supplies (alcohol gel, masks, soap, medicines)
      • “Home” isolation of patients (explore possibilities by talking to indigenous people)
      • Include indigenous people in priority groups in anticipating influenza immunization
    • Tertiary prevention - mortality reduction
      • Training of health professionals for the early diagnosis of complications
      • Information for communities on the complications of COVID-19
      • Prepare logistics for removal at the appropriate time
      • Collaborate with the Health Care Networks the flows and procedures for hospitalization in case of need


  • Include and categorize indigenous groups, especially the Amazonians and those of recent contact, as vulnerable groups, together with the elderly and immunosuppressed people ;
  • Supply health units to assist indigenous people, with the necessary amount of supplies for individual protection, symptomatic medications and personal hygiene products and ensure an adequate replacement flow;
  • Repair any of the water supply systems of villages that are not working and construct systems where they do not yet exist.
  • Be prepared for the need for food support in the case of epidemics in communities / Indigenous Territories.
We thank Dr. Douglas Rodrigues, sanitary doctor, Projeto Xingu - Federal University of São Paulo, for collaborating with the writing of this note and agreeing to the use of part of the content of the note that his team is preparing: Contingency measures against the dissemination of the Coronavirus COVID-19 among indigenous peoples in Brazil, especially those who live in TIs in the Brazilian Amazon


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