New Report Reveals Tribal Peoples at Greatest Risk from Swine Flu

Report comes as body bags sent to native Canadians

A report launched today by human rights group Survival International shows that tribal peoples across the world are at greatest risk from swine flu, as many have poor immunity and suffer chronic underlying illnesses.

The Matsigenka tribe has already been struck by swine flu. © J Mazower/Survival

The Matsigenka tribe has already been struck by swine flu. © J Mazower/Survival

The report, “Swine flu and tribal peoples,” shows that indigenous peoples in Australia and Canada have been hard hit by the swine flu pandemic, as the majority live in poverty, suffering overcrowding and poor sanitation, and have high rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and alcoholism.

The report comes just days after supplies of body bags were delivered to First Nations communities in Manitoba, Canada, along with hand sanitizers and face masks.

First Nations communities in the province have seen infection rates of 130 per 100,000 compared with just 24 per 100,000 among the general population. However, although many households do not have access to clean water, the Canadian government delayed sending hand sanitizers to reserve communities, where alcoholism is rife, for fear that people would attempt to ingest the alcohol in them.

Grand Chief David Harper told CBC, ‘I make a plea to the people of Canada to work with us to ensure the lowest fatalities from this monster virus. Don’t send us body bags. Help us organize; send us medicine.’

Armand MacKenzie of the Innu Nation of eastern Canada, said today, ‘In Canada, I hope that the words “highest attainable standards of health” mean more than sending body bags to Indigenous First Nations communities. We need a real pandemic plan in partnership with Indigenous First Nations. Not body bags!’

The report also raises concern for isolated tribes who have no immunity to outside diseases and for whom even the common cold can prove fatal. Members of the Matsigenka tribe in the Peruvian Amazon have already been struck by swine flu, leading to fears for the health of neighbouring uncontacted tribes. Any contact with outsiders carrying the virus could devastate entire communities.

Stephen Corry, Director of Survival, said, ‘That tribal peoples are worst affected by swine flu comes as no surprise. Years of colonialism and forced assimilation policies have left them in destitution with chronic health problems. This report makes for sober reading but it should also serve as a wake up call to those governments that have ignored the health needs of their most vulnerable populations for too long.’

Survival International, founded in 1969 after an article by Norman Lewis in the UK's Sunday Times highlighted the massacres, land thefts and genocide taking place in Brazilian Amazonia, is the only international organization supporting tribal peoples worldwide. Contact Survival International at: Read other articles by Survival International, or visit Survival International's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. rosemarie jackowski said on October 2nd, 2009 at 1:48pm #

    The risk from receiving the vaccine is getting more attention. An Albany NY talk show yesterday mentioned the problem that receiving the normal flu shot would INCREASE the probability of getting swine flu. That radio program stated that the vaccine was being stopped in 3 Canadian Provinces. I don’t know if that is true. BUT this is from an article by Helen Branswell Medical Reporter (CP) –
    “…TORONTO An unpublished Canadian study that suggests seasonal flu shots raise a person’s risk of catching swine flu is raising concern abroad and triggering changes to flu vaccine program schedules at home.
    The data, referred to as “the Canadian problem” by some scientists outside this country, are reported to link getting a flu shot last year with double the risk of contracting swine flu this year….”

    In addition, on C-span the other night, it was stated that anyone receiving the swine flu shot should request that it be given from an individual vial, not the larger vials that are used for multiple shots. The larger vials contain more mercury because more of a preservative it needed in them.

    A lot of safety questions remain. The only thing for sure is that the poor will suffer the most.

  2. lichen said on October 2nd, 2009 at 2:42pm #

    I don’t remember the last time I had the flu, and I’ve never been vaccinated in my life. I’m sure the solution for native people’s is taking steps to support their good health through social justice, not just injections.

  3. smilinggreenmom said on October 3rd, 2009 at 8:28am #

    Wow…how sad. I wish these people also had access to probiotics. Our family takes the Vidazorb chewable probiotics, and I have read so much on all of the health benefits that probiotics have for our us. I have read how they can help boost immunities, help with skin conditions (our son’s Eczema and allergies were dramatically helped by them), they can help with digestion and nutrient absorption etc They are awesome and how great it would be if these people had a way to boost their and strengthen their immune system and whole body to help stay healthy.