Brazil: Amazonian villagers alone in the face of COVID-19

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Not far from Manaus, on the banks of the Rio Negro, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, the villagers are left to fend for themselves in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and rely on their faith in God and traditional beverages .

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The “Ribeirinhos”, the name given to the villagers, indigenous or not, who live in these traditional communities by the water, have all the natural ingredients they need at their fingertips.

With only syrup made from the bark of jatoba or andiroba, lemon and garlic as the only remedy, Raimundo Leite de Sousa, 34, says he survived the coronavirus which has killed more than 210,000 people in Brazil.

“The disease affected me, but not sunk”, told AFP this resident of Bela Vista do Jaraqui, a village located an hour by boat from Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas (north).

Some 112 families live there in wooden houses, with breathtaking views of the Rio Negro, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, where you can admire the splendid golden reflections of the sun on the river.

The nearest clinic is in another village, a 25-minute walk or ten-minute boat ride away.

“Even though many of us have lost loved ones, I trust in God,” says Silvio de Melo, who has just arrived in the center of the village to take part in a COVID-19 screening operation led by the municipality of Manaus, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Screening operation

“God takes care of us and if we have to die, no medicine can save us”, adds Erasmo Morales, 55 years old.

All the villagers use masks, even children, which is far from the case in large Brazilian metropolises, including Manaus, where the COVID-19 vaccination began on Monday evening.

This screening operation in Bela Vista do Jaraqui is only the second since the start of the pandemic. The first, last year, was carried out with donations.

The 45 people tested on Monday will not know for 5 to 7 days if they have been infected.

More than half of the villagers have never been tested, almost a year after the arrival of the pandemic in Brazil, in one of the most affected states in the country, which has seen an explosion of new cases in recent weeks .

Experts believe that a new, potentially very contagious variant could explain the virulence of this second wave, which overwhelmed Manaus hospitals, hit by a terrible shortage of oxygen tanks.

“In town, everyone is fighting for this oxygen that we have here”, launches Raimundo de Sousa, pointing to the immense green expanses of the “lung of the planet”.

Ambulance boat

The villagers complain of being neglected by the authorities, who had already been overwhelmed during the first wave.

“I am disappointed, the governor could have done more, these are lives that are at stake”, deplores Jardei Santos, 35, who fears to have caught COVID-19 because she feels headaches and nausea.

“I’m more worried today than last year because I see a lot more people infected. But we must continue to pray, God does not abandon us, ”she continues, waiting her turn for screening on a wooden bench.

Even if it seems cut off from the world, the village has an internet connection, which allows residents to communicate through a WhatsApp group. If a villager experiences severe symptoms, he is immediately taken to a dispensary on an “ambulancha”, an ambulance boat.

Purchased with donations, there are five in all, for 700 families in 15 villages on the banks of the Rio Negro.

But being treated in town is far from a panacea. “The ten patients who were transferred to Manaus are dead,” says Raimundo de Sousa. One of them was her uncle, 53 years old.

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