All around the world we are struggling to fight Coronavirus, seeing our lives changing in an unprecedented and unimaginable way.

However, some groups such as indigenous people are among those most vulnerable and completely unprepared to face this threat.

That is why ICDO wants to raise awareness on the urgency to take action in order to ensure that indigenous peoples are informed, helped and protected during the COVID-19 pandemic and medical centers in their areas prepared to monitor and respond to communicable disease emergencies such as COVID-19.

Indigenous communities represent 6.2% of the global population and 15% of the world’s poorest people. In the past, they have experienced very strong epidemics that brought to critical depopulation and severe devastation in their territories, as they have weaker immunity against infectious diseases.

Even before the spread of Coronavirus, they already suffered difficult common living conditions and huge disadvantages in terms of access to public health care in their countries due to persistent discrimination. Today medical centers in their areas – which are nowhere near the medical centers in developed parts of the world – are dealing with a lack of medical equipment and are not ready at all to manage this emergency on their own.

The indigenous way of living in communities demands bringing different protection and prevention measures from those applied in cities and more urban areas.

Social distancing is not easy for indigenous families with many people living under the same roof and isolating especially the elders is difficult, as they represent the keepers of tradition, history and culture and are the leaders of the communities. Their municipalities have not yet come up with an effective strategy to deal with social distancing and self-isolation challenges.

It is even more difficult now when indigenous people working in the cities migrate back to their communities due to lack of income and possibly bring Coronavirus to their households.

Indigenous communities also help preserve biodiversity and safeguard life on our planet, reducing climate change which concerns us all: so even if you might think that they live so far away from us, this is in everyone’s interest.

More than ever, now it is important not to forget about them. What if it would have been us not having a hospital or access to the healthcare system?

Based on ICDO’s evaluation of health and social conditions conducted with hospitals, health centers, municipalities, and partners, ICDO suggests recommendations to governments and healthcare systems for the safeguarding and protection of indigenous communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ICDO urges governments and healthcare systems to take into consideration that indigenous communities do not have required conditions to fulfill measurements recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

For example, self-isolation is not effective among indigenous communities who need to face lack of water, cannot afford disinfection costs, cannot undergo tests or have no access to hospitals. The same goes for those who live in rural areas and depend on daily salaries.

Therefore, ICDO suggests that national, regional and local administrations should implement different strategies according to each situation, not just replicate them from other countries, and assure that indigenous communities are included and not left behind.

*Indigenous communities do not have required conditions to fulfill recommendations stated below, therefore ICDO suggests that countries with indigenous communities should implement strategies tailored according to their situation, so that they can fulfill the measurements that proved to be effective, such as:    

  • Coronavirus prevention advisories
    • Emphasizing the importance of physical (social) distancing
    • Handwashing and water drinking advisories
    • Hygiene
    • Cleaning
    • Wearing masks or face coverings
  • Informing communities of the risks of getting Coronavirus in their languages
    • Call the medical centers to check if you have been exposed
    • Take care of the most vulnerable people in the group
    • Warn about the survival of coronavirus on surfaces
  • Establishing quarantines in every community
  • Include doctors who practice traditional medicine in the health systems
  • Raise awareness about domestic violence

Indigenous people are experiencing difficult living conditions and discrimination within health system and society, so in order to help them face Coronavirus, governments and health authorities should adapt different approach and measurement in the fight against the current global threat of COVID-19 pandemic, according to the different contexts they are living in.