MANAUS, Brazil – Amid an oxygen crisis and the collapse of healthcare systems in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, residents of an indigenous neighborhood of Manaus, the regional capital, have set up a field hospital exclusively for the treatment of indigenous people with COVID-19.
Because they live in an urban area, the native people of Parque das Tribos, the first indigenous neighborhood of Manaus, are not treated by the Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health (Sesai), despite the high coronavirus infection rates among its residents.
“We have been fighting for the lives of indigenous people living in the cities since last year,” nursing technician Vanda Ortega, the first person to be vaccinated in the Amazon and who is in charge of managing the Indigenous Support Unit – created just three weeks ago – tells EFE.
Like Ortega, all the technicians, health workers and other professionals working at the field hospital are indigenous and are volunteers.
So far this year, at least 32 people have been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 in this community, which is home to some 700 indigenous families from various ethnic groups.
In total, 65 percent have contracted the COVID-19 disease-causing pathogen since the beginning of the health crisis in Brazil almost a year ago, according to an epidemiological study conducted by the National Institute of Amazonian Research.
“In the first weeks of January, our community was again brutally hit by the virus,” after experiencing a peak of infections between May and June last year, he says.
But in the face of the sanitary collapse in Manaus “there was no possibility of being treated” in a health center, so Ortega and the-then chief of the community, Messias Kokama, who died of COVID-19 in May, set their sights on a clinic dedicated exclusively to the care of urban indigenous people.
The hospital, which does not have the support of the Manaus City Hall or the Amazonas state government, was set up on the rooftop of a church in the region thanks to donations of oxygen tanks, supplies and other health equipment.
Instead of beds, patients rest in hammocks and are also treated with traditional indigenous medicine, such as tea, herbs and leaves, used alongside drugs to fight the coronavirus.
After 23 days of operations, the Indigenous Support Unit has already treated about 200 people and dozens of them come by every day in search of vaccines.
In addition to the attention and care of the patients, volunteers such as Alfredo Kokama, 26 years old, are also tasked with the preparation of meals and keeping security.
“We are all relatives here. I love to help,” he says.