Dr. Eglee Zent (Alleviating Malaria in Venezuela Project Leader), with Dr. Susannah McCandless (GDF North America Director & GEN Advisor)
I called Dr. Egleé last night to learn the latest from the Venezuelan Amazon. She had just heard from Gabriel, a young Jotï man, It was the first news from a remote community that, without bush plane flights, has been incommunicado for six months.
“Three days ago,” she told me, “Gabriel and another young man came walking into Ciudad Bolivar. They came through Eñepa territory. It’s a good time to travel, the rivers are low. They must have walked to Caicara, on the edge of the Orinoco River, and taken a bus from there. It must have taken them a week, walking, even at their rapid pace.”
“They contacted us—it’s always one of the first things they do when they come into town, which is lovely—to say there are very few cases of malaria, and no deaths. They’re mostly just dealing with cases of colds and coughs, but no one is seriously ill.”
It gives me great joy to learn about the ongoing effects of the nets and malarial treatment medications whose delivery the No one should die of malaria today campaign on GlobalGiving has made possible to date. Together with the communities’ other strategies, they’ve made a tremendous difference even in a historically wet year. Donors of this project helped us respond to the communities’ request, and deliver nets and more than 300 sets of malarial treatments to Gabriel’s home community. Those treatments are worth their weight in gold, almost literally: in Venezuela, sometimes they can only be bought for gold grains.
“The whole health situation of my country is painfully sad: there are nine pandemic diseases affecting and killing many people. Among the most vulnerable are Indigenous people: 12% of all the (reported) cases of malaria in Venezuela affect Indigenous people although they represent less than 3% of the population. A main conclusion of our session and another on Venezuelan health is that we do not have enough…statistics to understand tendencies and to build efficient strategies to deliver health help. Ideally the communities themselves should have their own records to have a good sense of the incidence of the diseases.
Egleé’s favorite pilot, Enrique, believes he might be able to fly into communities again at the end of January. Meanwhile, Egleé and Stanford remain in close contact with a network of medical providers and agencies serving Amazonian Indigenous peoples so they can rapidly secure more key medicines if transport to the communities becomes available. As part of that work, Egleé reports:
“We attended and offered an oral presentation at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 68th Annual Meeting and presented at the symposium on Malaria Resurgence in Venezuela and Its Regional Implications. Our talk was called Indigenous populations and malaria: an ethnobiologist view.
“Given the complex logistical situation in Venezuela nowadays, we are trying to look for alternative ways to follow with the second stage of our health and bio-cultural conservation project. [We face] (1) the problems to enter the communities and (2) that the main issue of the second stage was to have a detailed record of the malaria cases we have to count on the local people to gather the date.
“Last week I proposed to [Kayama community leader] Gerardo if they [the Kayama] would be willing to provide monthly data on the cases of malaria in Kayama, ideally on all the diseases in the area of influence of the rural health clinics, the ambulatorios. Gerardo is the only Jotï right now in the city (Cuidad Bolívar). Previously, early in the week, he had specifically asked me if I could help them with their communication system: their only contact from the Amazon to the outside world. He said that their radio in Kayama has been functioning badly and has been broken; recently they have been using the Eñepa’s. Also, the phone they have is not working properly. Electronic devices tend to function poorly or require more intensive maintenance in wet tropical areas, and now it is more difficult in Venezuela to have spare parts or overall maintenance. [So,] I requested that he ask the community to have a meeting or consultation about sending the health data in a systematic way.
“The two pieces of equipment required and that have proved to be good in the area, since they have been used by the Jotï ,are the following:
– radio transceiver ICOM IC-735. Gerardo sent me the pictures attached.
– smart phones (Samsung A20, or the like).
“The community members at Kayama talked about our suggestion and contacted Gerardo today. They had had the consultation, and told him that they agree. The central ideas will be:
(1) to provide the media to have fluid communication with people to and from the community, and someone in the city who in turn will communicate with us about the morbidity and mortality data.
(2) these phones and radios would record potential unwelcome people [on Kayama territory], as has already happened (miners, guerrilleros, invaders, etc.).”
So, we sent $160 of project funds, and Gerardo purchased two phones for Kayama. “They have the [shared] radio that still works,” Egleé reports. “We’ll send additional project funds to replace or try to repair the other one. The phones can help to take pictures and keep records of both health and territorial safety dynamics.”
Egleé concludes, “Ideally, we could also carry out the same data-gathering strategy in the Iguana region through the radio, so, I requested that Gerardo contact community leaders Jkali, Lucia, Baluwe or the people in charge of health in that community.
She signs off, “All the best, abrazos de paz, salud y bien.“
This article was first submitted as a report for the No one should die of malaria today campaign on GlobalGiving.