Malaria and Malnutrition Plague Brazilian Indians

Infant mortality among Brazilian Indians has fallen 17% since the beginning of the year, according to data released by the National Health Foundation (Funasa). The are still, however, many problems when the subject is Indian health.

According to Alexandre Padilha, Coordinator of Funasa’s Department of Indian Health (Dsai), this figure outstrips the target that was set, to reduce mortality among Indian children by 15% over the course of the year.

Padilha also informed that Funasa was able to vaccinate more extensively, establish oral health teams in the 34 Special Indian Health Districts (Dseis) that exist in Brazil, and diminish the number of tuberculosis cases.

The Coordinator admits, nevertheless, that there are still many challenges in the area of Indian health.


“The problems stem from the fact that these are populations that live in isolated areas that are geographically hard to reach, as well as the difficulty in keeping university-trained professionals, such as doctors and nurses, there.


“There also factors related to cultural habits, but there is an effort by the Ministry of Health, Funasa, and native leaders to deal with these problems,” he says.

In the attempt to formulate joint solutions to these problems, an advisory comittee was formed on health care policies for indigenous communities.


The committee, which met yesterday, includes representatives of non-governmental organizations, universities, municipal governments, Indian peoples, academic institutions, the National Indian Foundation (Funai), and the Ministry of Environment.

“The function of the committee will be to debate positions, define political issues, and provide a space for consultations to collaborate with Funasa in orienting how best to manage Indian health,” Padilha explains.

With an annual budget of US$ 75.7 million (220 million reais), Funasa cares for around 410 thousand Indians in Brazil. Even though this represents nearly double the resources transferred to the rest of the population, some regions face serious problems, such as the growing number of cases of malaria and malnutrition.

According to Padilha, a large portion of these diseases results from the presence of economic activities, such as mining, logging, and agriculture, carried out within the Indian reserves.


He gives the Roosevelt Reserve, in Rondônia, as an example. It is the site of a struggle over diamond mining.

“On the Roosevelt Reserve, the intensification of prospecting activities has contributed to a substantial increase in cases of malaria. Funasa is reinforcing the teams that combat the disease by providing insecticides to eliminate the mosquitos and carrying out diagnosis and early treatment programs,” Padilha affirms.

Another region that faces serious health problems is the Mato Grosso Xavante Indian Reserve.


After having spent ten months camped out alongside the BR-158 federal highway, those Xavantes obtained a court injunction guaranteeing their return to the Marãiwatsede lands, an area covering 165 thousand hectares.


But the long delay led to the death of three children and malnutrition in several others.

Padilha explains that the Ministries of Health, Justice, Agrarian Development, and Environment, together with the Funai, have been preparing a joint decree for projects of sustainable development and food security on Indian lands.


“This year Funasa will still inaugurate the Community Initiatives Fund, which will finance small-scale food security projects in indigenous communities,” he promises.

Agência Brasil
Reporter: Irene Lôbo
Translator: David Silberstein

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