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Death From the Outside: Uncontacted Community in Danger Due to Disease

Recently contacted indigenous people in Paraguay are dying from a mysterious epidemic, and their suffering follows an old and dangerous pattern.

Recently contacted indigenous people in Paraguay are dying from a mysterious epidemic, according to Survival International (SI), and their suffering follows an old and dangerous pattern.

“Members of the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode tribe in Paraguay are rapidly succumbing to a TB-like illness which goes undetected in medical examinations,” SI said in a press release on World Health Day, April 7.

“The Indians are being forced out of their forest as cattle ranchers burn and clear the land.”

Most of the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode have already been forced out of the forest and they have suffered from various respiratory illnesses ever since. This recent illness could wipe out the remaining people from the tribe according to SI, noting that the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode, like other uncontacted peoples, have no immunity to outsider diseases.

In a prior SI interview, Medical Researcher Dr. Stafford Lightman explained how the spread of these diseases become lethal to a whole community of uncontacted people.

“Any infectious disease carried by visitors to these areas is potentially lethal,” Dr. Lightman explained.

“When an alien pathogen arrives in a small isolated group, even if only one person is infected, they will be looked after by their friends and family group who will also all be infected and rapidly pass the infection around the whole tribe. It will take very little time for almost every member of the group to be infected.

“One of the effects of an infection overwhelming a whole community, is that very few people will be spared and since it hits a whole community at the same time, no-one will be able to hunt or collect food and even if they do, there will be no-one to prepare it,” he continued.

“Consequently as well as being ill, the individuals will have no-one to look after them or feed them, with major effects on the ability of the group to continue to survive without outside help.”

For SI and other advocates, that outside help means the Paraguayan Government stepping in and preventing the further destruction of the Gran Chaco, a vast dry forest that extends over parts of Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. (A 2013 University of Maryland report found that the Paraguayan section of the Gran Chaco is experiencing the fastest rate of deforestation in the world.)

SI Director Stephen Corry noted that, as outsider diseases have killed millions of Native people throughout the Western Hemisphere, this recent illness is doing the same thing to the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode.

“This tragedy is no surprise,” Corry asserted.

“When uncontacted peoples are forced into contact with outside society, disease swiftly follows. Here is proof that forced contact is nothing more than a death sentence for tribal peoples. Yet the government is doing nothing to protect the lives of these Ayoreo’s uncontacted relatives…Paraguay must act now to protect the lives of the last uncontacted Indians outside Amazonia.”