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Ecuador's Amazon Tribes Turn to Tech to Track COVID-19 Cases

This story was originally published July 21, 2020 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ecuador's indigenous groups in the Amazon have launched an information dashboard to monitor the coronavirus and identify contagion hotspots as the disease spreads through the rainforest and threatens ancient cultures, a leading rights group said on Tuesday.

Members of Ecuador's indigenous community gather in front of the council of the judiciary building after a local court ruling, in Quito, Ecuador May 15, 2019. | REUTERS/Daniel Tapia
Members of Ecuador's indigenous community gather in front of the council of the judiciary building after a local court ruling, in Quito, Ecuador May 15, 2019. | REUTERS/Daniel Tapia

The dashboard, a collection of charts that aggregates coronavirus data, shows COVID-19 infection and death rates and suspected and recovered cases by area and tribe since early May, said The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), which gathered the information.

About 250,000 indigenous people live in Ecuador's Amazon region where they are facing a high risk of infection and death from the coronavirus due to malnutrition and a lack of drinking water, health services and COVID-19 tests.

According to data on the dashboard, COVID-19 cases among the 10 indigenous nations tracked have increased to 1,733 from 47 since May 15.

"While this platform shows important and disturbing numbers, each digit is a person, a mom, a dad, a grandfather or grandmother. We have lost a lot of elders — they are the keepers of our traditions, our ancestral knowledge, our languages," said Marlon Vargas, head of CONFENIAE, in a statement.

"We are using technology to help document how we are being affected and hope it brings the resources we need to combat this virus," he said.

Indigenous groups across the Amazon say they have been largely left to fend for themselves, and that COVID-19 tests and health care services are not reaching their remote communities.

"The goal of this dashboard is to show the spread of COVID-19, identifying outbreak hotspots that can inform emergency response to priority areas," said Carlos Mazabanda, a field coordinator at Amazon Watch, an indigenous rights group that worked with CONFENIAE and others to build and maintain the dashboard platform.

Ecuador has reported about 4,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including nearly 150 deaths among indigenous people, according to the Washington-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Earlier this week, PAHO called on governments in the region to "intensify efforts" to stem the spread of the coronavirus among indigenous people as countries including Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico report a rise in the number of cases and deaths among tribal communities.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, most indigenous communities are isolating themselves and have blocked roads, bridges and trails to close off their reserves.

But as Ecuador's coronavirus lockdown has gradually eased, oil companies have restarted operations and have brought in workers and equipment in and around indigenous reserves, which raises the risk of exposure, according to Amazon Watch.

Across Ecuador, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of nearly 5,500 people and infected about 76,000 others.

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