Los Altos resident from Brazil helping indigenous peoples impacted by COVID-19

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Ubiratan Surui/Special to the Town Crier
A Los Altos family is working to help indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest impacted by COVID-19.

Due to factors that include a lack of health care, insufficient medication and living in an isolated location, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Los Altos resident Jennifer Mitchell, a native of Brazil, and her family have initiated a GoFundMe campaign to buy medication and supplies for the indigenous peoples of the Rondonia and Mato Grosso regions.

Mitchell is working with a colleague based in Brazil to lessen the impact COVID-19 has on the communities in those regions. Her colleague, Ivaneide Surui, founded an organization called Kanindé, which helps such ethnic groups.

“Every time I called, she had another horror story to tell me,” Mitchell said of Surui.

The groups are greatly affected by the coronavirus for several reasons, according to Mitchell. One is their isolated location.

“The Amazon region has fewer hospitals and a much more rudimentary health infrastructure than the rest of the country,” she said. “Some of it has to do with sheer distances of getting from one community to another, often only via trail, bush plane or boat.”

Mitchell added that those who do happen to make it to the city hospitals have a hard time getting the assistance they need because the facilities are “overloaded.”

A shortage of medication also has added to the growing number of problems. Mitchell said some of the patients have been “intubated at the hospital but without the necessary anesthesia and body relaxants.” The conditions have led to four deaths, she noted.

COVID cases climbing

According to the Coordination of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, there have been a total of 25,311 cases and 673 deaths from COVID-19, making the indigenous communities with a small population even smaller.

With the money she raised, Mitchell plans to buy three air condensers that will be placed in the village’s indigenous health posts. She said this will allow for easier breathing for those waiting to be admitted to the hospital. The rest of the money will be donated to Kanindé.

When thinking about how to better improve Brazil’s health-care system in the long run, Mitchell said that she doesn’t have a definite plan.

“I suspect, however, that one way to help these communities look after themselves is to strengthen the health posts within each village with medications, equipment and medical personnel and training,” she said. “Because sadly, the government cannot be counted on for anything. These people are invisible to the current administration.”

Writing what she knows

Mitchell is writing a book directed toward teens that centers on environmental sustainability in Brazil.

“My ongoing intention in writing this book for young teens is to raise awareness of the socio-environmental issues these communities face as well as the important contributions they can make in the fight against climate change,” she said.

Once the pandemic is over, she hopes to finish her book and continue to work closely with the indigenous peoples of the Brazilian Amazon.

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