After several weeks of global health alerts, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus and its disease, COVID-19, a pandemic. This means that it is spreading throughout the planet and that no country can be considered safe.
The definition of a pandemic does not speak of its severity or lethality, but implies that a disease is transmitted locally in multiple countries throughout the world, and not only through travelers who come from one or two original sources. Until now, coronavirus was an epidemic, implying a geographically localized outbreak in East Asia. But the local expansion in Europe and the US, through contagions with no relation to China or South Korea, have pushed it to the next level.
The declaration of a pandemic forces the governments of affected countries to move to the mitigation phase as soon as possible, since it is not enough just to control people who have visited risk areas. Now, everyone is at risk because the virus multiplies in an uncontrolled way.
According to WHO reports, The COVID-19 infects people of all ages. However, current evidence suggests that two groups of people are at a higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms. These are elderly people; and those with underlying medical conditions. WHO emphasizes that all must protect themselves from COVID-19 in order to protect others.
The disease is wreaking havoc on the world economy and most sectors are being affected in an unprecedented way. The latest UNWTO data reflects that the tourism sector is currently one of the most affected by the outbreak of the disease. Travel restrictions and flight cancellations have significantly decreased the supply of travel services as demand continues to drop.
IT'S TIME TO PUT PEOPLE FIRST
The most important thing is to keep people safe. The coronavirus contagion rate is clear: it spreads way more quickly than SARS, regular flu and other viruses. In developed countries, the infection rate grows exponentially every day, even with advanced health systems and constant support from governments.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE WORLD’S MOST DISADVANTAGED COMMUNITIES?
According to the UN, a large number of indigenous peoples—more than 300 million spread over some 5000 populations in 70 countries—live in a traditional semi-isolation that has prevented their immune system from getting used to fighting viruses. They suffer from poorer health, are more likely to experience disability and reduced quality of life and ultimately die younger than their non-indigenous counterparts. The gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous people is up to 20 years lower.
For this reason, and according to data from international organizations such as Survival International, indigenous communities are especially sensitive to new infections.
Reports from previous epidemics show how big a problem this can be. For example, while the H1N1 virus had an infection rate of 24 per 100,000 cases among the general population, it was considerably higher, reaching 130 per 100,000, among indigenous communities. This is in countries where there were trusted systems for accounting and processing data such as Canada. The data from underdeveloped countries is much more discouraging. In the case of COVID-19, we already know that there is a higher rate of contagion and therefore we can predict the seriousness of the situation.
Indigenous peoples around the world are at greatest risk of contracting the disease, because most of them have poor immunity, suffer from other latent chronic diseases and have no access to medical infrastructure. Even a common cold can be deadly to them.
WHAT USUALLY HAPPENS IN A TRIBE ONCE A STRANGE PATHOGEN ARRIVES?
According to another report by Survival International, when a strange pathogen reaches a small isolated group, even if only one person is infected, they will be cared for by their friends and family. It is likely that those people will then also be infected and the infection will spread rapidly to the whole tribe. Some will be more susceptible than others, but the elderly, young children, and the sick are in particular danger.
One of the consequences of an infection that affects an entire community is that very few people will get rid of it and, since it affects everyone at the same time, nobody will be able to hunt or collect food. Therefore, not only will they be sick but nobody will be able to take care of them or feed them. This will have serious consequences on the group's ability to continue surviving without help from abroad.
Some indigenous communities are open to dealing with illness with either traditional or Western medicine, if they have access to it, which is not usually the case. Some others see illnesses as a punishment by the Gods and are more reluctant to seek treatment, spreading the disease in the community. However, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, states that indigenous communities have the right to promote, develop and maintain their distinctive customs, spirituality, traditions, procedures, and practices, and for that reason it is even more important to have extreme precautions to prevent the spreading of diseases among them.
NOMADIC TRIBE COMMITMENT WITH INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
At Nomadic Tribe, our focus is on the well-being of our global community of travelers, suppliers, staff, and, of course, the indigenous communities around the world. As a result of this, we have taken the decision to delay all bookings for the immediate future. It is our priority to support the tribes that we visit and at this time we do not believe that travel is in the best interest of the communities we work with. While the potential impact of this virus on indigenous communities is unknown, it is our responsibility to maintain the well-being of our global tribe and prevent further spread of the virus if possible.
Isolation is being shown to be the best way to contain the virus. The governments of the most affected countries strongly recommend avoiding personal contact and taking extreme hygiene measures if there is no other choice but to leave home or travel.
It is time to be responsible, supportive and cautious. The mortality rate of this disease is 3.4% globally (this is a changing percentage that the WHO updates periodically), and we are all susceptible to carrying the virus and infecting more vulnerable people.
In addition, our commitment to indigenous communities goes further. Nomadic Tribe is already working on the creation of a foundation to help these communities. We will begin to study possible projects to mitigate the risk of these diseases and possible projects to support the effects it may have on indigenous peoples.
If you are travelling anywhere in the immediate future, we strongly recommend that you check with travel guidance and health advisories from your local government, and closely monitor the information from the World Health Organization.
NOMADIC TRIBE TEAM
Cover photo: Little African boy iStock.com/Riccardo Lennart Niels Mayer