Health crisis forces many Yanomami to wander the streets – KGET 17

BOA VISTA, Brazil (AP) — From a distance, a small group lying on the sidewalk outside a city market could be mistaken for the hundreds of homeless people spread across Boa Vista.

But they are the Yanomami, the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest who traditionally live in relative isolation. Years of neglect under the previous government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro led to a health crisis that worsened as illegal gold miners swarmed into their territory. Dozens of Yanomami ended up roaming the region’s largest city.

The oldest of the group living in the Boa Vista food market is a couple — Oma Yanomami, 46, and Bonita Yanomami, 35. Both are from the Koroasipiitheri community, accessible only by air. In September, they were taken to Boa Vista to follow their three-year-old son, who was ill with malaria.

They initially stayed at the Indigenous Health Center known as Casai, a federal facility on the outskirts of Boa Vista, a large city of 440,000 people and the capital of the state of Roraima. But within the first few days, the family left the facility and began living on the streets.

“It was too crowded,” Oma Yanomami told The Associated Press on Thursday in broken Portuguese as he sat on a dirty sidewalk. Next to him, his wife was sleeping despite the heavy car traffic nearby. Both were bruised and appeared to be in poor health.

A report released this week by the Ministry of Health paints a bleak picture of Casai, which was built to host Yanomami undergoing treatment and their relatives. Its capacity is 200 people, but it has as many as 700 shelters, which represents 2% of the Yanomami population. The number does not include those hospitalized, including several severely malnourished children.

“The bathrooms are unhealthy, and the dining rooms are insufficient and unpleasant. In addition, food was insufficient until a few months ago,” the report said. “The Yanomami lack space to prepare food and other activities, so at night there are several drunken people and reports of violence and car jacking.”

According to the report, 150 Yanomami have the right to return to their villages, but the wait for a place on a return flight can be very long – 10 years in one extreme case.

An estimated 30,000 Yanomami people live in Brazil’s largest indigenous territory, which covers an area roughly the size of Portugal and stretches across the states of Roraima and Amazonas in the northwestern part of the Brazilian Amazon.

Life on the streets took its toll on Oma and Bonita Yanomami. Their son soon contracted pneumonia, while his parents fell into drunkenness. Health workers learned of the situation and took the baby to a local hospital. He was admitted there as “poor”, which led him to adoption without parental consent.

The couple did not see their child for four months. Then social workers associated with the indigenous movement intervened to bring them inside to visit. The future of the child now depends on the court order.

It is not uncommon to meet Yanomami on the streets of Boa Vista, most with drinking problems. Some return to Casai during the night, while others end up under the viaduct.

Their life is hard. Two weeks ago, a Yanomami woman gave birth on the sidewalk. On Thursday, a Yanomami man died days after being injured in a prison fight, according to the state’s justice secretary. There are 269 indigenous prisoners of various nations in Roraima.

In January, the federal government, led by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, declared a public health emergency for the Yanomami people. Since then, military doctors have treated over 1,000 people at the field hospital in Boa Vista, and 4,000 food baskets have been distributed across the vast territory.

In parallel, security forces began destroying equipment and controlling the entry of illegal gold miners, estimated at 20,000 people. As a result, dozens have decided to leave the indigenous territory, while many others continue to mine for gold.

Indigenous organizations now want the Yanomami child, who is now four years old, to be returned to her parents so they can board a plane and return to Koroasipiitheri, where her six siblings await.


Associated Press climate and environmental reporting receives support from several private foundations. Read more about AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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