Brazil bars Doctors Without Borders COVID-19 help to indigenous villages

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The Brazilian government has not allowed Médecins Sans Frontières to provide assistance to prevent and detect suspected cases of COVID-19 in seven villages of the Terena indigenous tribe in southern Brazil, the medical NGO said on Thursday.

MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, presented a plan to assist the seven communities with about 5,000 inhabitants, adding in a statement that it had been invited to help by tribal leaders.

Instead, the government’s indigenous health agency Sesai authorized its own doctors to assist another village with 1,000 inhabitants, where it said COVID-19 cases were more prevalent.

A Sesai statement said that MSF presented an expanded plan for assisting Terena communities that was not authorized because it failed to name the communities and resources to be used.

Indigenous rights organizations have complained that the government has allowed Christian missionaries to work with isolated tribes despite the risk of contagion by outsiders.

The coronavirus pandemic has endangered indigenous communities with no access to healthcare in remote parts of the Amazon and other parts of Brazil whose communal living under large dwellings make social distancing impossible.

Brazil’s main indigenous umbrella organization APIB has criticized the government of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro for denying the gravity of the second worst coronavirus outbreak outside the United States.

According to APIB, 690 indigenous people have died from COVID-19 and 26,443 cases have been confirmed among Brazil’s 850,000 indigenous people. Half of Brazil’s 300 indigenous tribes have confirmed infections.

MSF said its doctors are fully aware of the need to prevent the spread of contagion in indigenous territories.

“MSF has strict infection prevention and control protocols that it has successfully applied during its work to combat COVID-19 worldwide,” the NGO said in a statement.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Daniel Wallis