Aritana Yawalapiti, one of Brazil’s most influential Indigenous leaders, has been admitted to hospital in the central city of Goiania to be treated for COVID-19 at an intensive care unit.
The hospitalisation of Aritana, who is about 70 years old and leads the people of the Upper Xingu in central Brazil, is a powerful symbol of the threat to vulnerable Indigenous communities in Brazil, the world’s number-two coronavirus hotspot after the United States.
He arrived at the hospital early on Wednesday after an arduous journey over rural roads with a dwindling oxygen supply.
Aritana came down with COVID-19 symptoms in recent days and initially refused to leave his village in a remote part of the state of Mato Grosso, according to Celso Correia Batista, who works to support Indigenous people. However, as his condition deteriorated, and he needed oxygen to breathe, Aritana agreed to be hospitalised, Batista said.
Aritana and Batista set off on a 10-hour drive to a hospital in the small city of Canarana, in Mato Grosso. After performing a lung scan, they began looking for ways to get Aritana to an ICU but were unable to find a doctor willing to transport him by air. As a result, they decided on a risky nine-hour car journey to Goiania.
Batista said they travelled with four 1,000-litre oxygen cylinders during the trip – two of which were “practically empty” – to keep the chief alive until he reached the hospital. On the way, Batista said, the cylinders were replaced by full ones in a quick pit stop. “Otherwise we would have lost him,” he said.
After arriving in Goiania at 1:30am on Wednesday, Aritana had to wait 30 minutes outside the hospital, as he had travelled without any documents.
“His condition is serious, but he has every chance of survival,” said Batista.