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Robust COVID-19 awareness campaign for indigenous villages -Amerindian Affairs Minister

by Samuel Sukhnandan

As part of efforts to tackle the spread of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in indigenous communities across Guyana, focus will be placed on starting a robust education campaign and providing economic relief and support to affected villages.

This is according to Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai, who told News Talk Radio 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online News on Thursday that these decisions were taken given the socio-economic realities of many indigenous communities across the country.

The United Nations (UN) has said that the pandemic poses a grave health threat to indigenous peoples around the world, since they already experience poor access to healthcare, lack of access to essential services, sanitation, and other key preventive measures, such as clean water, soap, and disinfectant.

But Minister Sukhai said she has already visited several communities within Regions Eight and Nine with the intent of assessing the situation and providing needed economic relief support to some of these indigenous communities that are mostly affected by the virus.

“Addressing the COVID-19 situation is of top priority for the government and his excellency (the president). And we have made a commitment to pay a lot of attention to the pandemic. So as soon as I was appointed, I got into action and have since visited many of the affected communities,” she explained.

The minister said interior villages like Kanapang, Itabak, Kabakaburi and Bamboo Creek, among others, were identified as possible hotpots by the new government team that has been tasked with looking at the COVID-19 situation.

“We have moved to provide quarantined families in these villages with food supplies to last for a few weeks. This was done to help them to avoid travelling across the borders,” Mrs Sukhai explained. She said special attention is now being paid to bordering communities and greater collaboration is being sought with all law enforcement agencies.

The minister said given how serious the situation is in neighbouring Brazil, the government will work hard to limit crossing into that country. “So we gave these affected families these supplies because we want to keep our people at home. Many people cross these borders for food supplies and other services,” she added.

In addition to that, Mrs. Sukhai said her ministry would continue to distribute masks, disinfectants and other supplies to assist these far-flung villages with tackling the pandemic. According to her, the government would also continue to monitor the situation and is currently considering their economic and social response to other villages.

In recognising that indigenous people are among the most at-risk population and face unique challenges in addressing COVID-19, Minister Sukhai stated that the government plans to take a robust public education campaign to many of these villages, so that residents take greater precautions and measures to protect themselves.

During recent interactions with village leaders and elders, the Amerindian Affairs Minister said she realised there was still a large number of indigenous people that still do not believe that COVID-19 is real. And it is for that reason that her ministry will push for such a campaign to take root in these hinterland villages.”The disbelief stems from the fact that COVID-19 has not arrived at their doorsteps and is also politically driven. So, we intend to use the hinterland radio stations to broadcast more frequent advisories and will encourage more conversations around the pandemic, so that our people become more acquainted with the dangers of the virus,” she explained. This will be facilitated through the various indigenous languages native to Guyana.

Further, in light of concerns that indigenous village leaders were not included in the decision making regarding the past government’s response to COVID-19, Minister Sukhai said that the new government is committed to ensuring that these leaders have the support they need to implement plans to tackle the pandemic.

“Our approach is one that is always consultative. In this case, we can’t bring together all leaders physically, but we will work with all units across each hinterland region to involve village leaders, toshaos and welfare officers. So, we have started that and they are with us partnering with their villages,” she added.

Project officers and community development coordinators have also alerted toshaos to tone down celebratory activities as a means to contain and minimise the risk of spreading the pandemic.