Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Amazonian tribe hit by swine flu

By Will Grant
BBC News, Venezuela

Yanomami Indians [file pic]
The Yanomami live in the border region between Venezuela and Brazil

Swine flu has killed seven members of an endangered Amazonian tribe, an indigenous rights organisation says.

Survival International said several hundred members of the Yanomami tribe in Venezuela could be infected.

The Venezuelan government has yet to confirm the deaths but said that a team was in the region to investigate.

An outbreak among the isolated tribes of the Amazon could spread among the indigenous population very quickly and kill many, campaigners fear.

Survival International, a London-based organisation, says it may already be happening among the Yanomami in the border region between Venezuela and Brazil.

The organisation's director, Stephen Corry, says the situation is "critical" and is calling for Venezuela and Brazil to take immediate action to halt the epidemic.

Estimated 32,000 remain
Live in communities up to 400
Venezuelan Yanomami live in a 8.2 million hectare (20.2 million acre) forest reserve
Thousands of illegal gold miners have infiltrated the reserve

They also needed to radically improve the Yanomami's access to healthcare, he said.

A member of the regional government's medical team told the BBC swine flu was the suspected cause of the deaths of a pregnant woman and three small children.

The Yanomami have been hurt by epidemics in the past, particularly when influenza and malaria were brought by miners in the 1980s.

Survival International estimate that as much as a fifth of the community was killed during that period and that the Yanomami population has fallen to about 32,000.

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