With boy and Phone 2

Radios, phones and social distancing help protect Amazonian communities

By Dr. Eglee Zent, Alleviating Malaria in Venezuela Project Leader, with Dr. Susannah McCandless, North America Director

In our last report, we shared the importance of good communication needed to get direct news on health conditions from the three remote Amazonian communities. This matters especially because it is effectively impossible to reach the communities: planes are grounded, and it is a 10-12 day trek from the Eñepá and Jotï community of Kayama to the nearest city, Bolivar, in Bolivar State. 

To get news out from the communities requires radios and phones. Residents of Kayama now have the use of a radio that the project paid to get fixed: it was fixed, made the trek back to Kayama, and is now in working condition. The phone the project gave to Kayama teacher Gerardo lets him share results, questions, needs and concerns to us and other project partners when he comes to the city. He continues relaying information he hears by community radio while he’s in town.

Both Kayama and the Jotï community of Iguana in Amazonas State have committed to sharing their health news, in the form of photos of their health data forms. In Amazonas, where the community radio is working, the project just gave a phone to a young teacher, Jkali, to relay health data from there. Jkali has acted as a promotor de salud (health promoter), collecting health data for the community. He works closely with Oscar, the amazing doctor supporting our malaria project. When Jkali got his phone, the first thing he did was to send Eglée a photo of himself… with Oscar!

Jkali with mentor, volunteer project doctor Oscar

The news remains good: somehow, amidst all that is going on, there is not much malaria in any of the three communities this year. “It’s absolutely wonderful,” says Egleé. She shared a photo of the form they filled and relayed on one of the new project phones. Egleé notes that it is very difficult to communicate with the Piaroa community, even though they are only a 2.5 hour drive from Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas. Egleé’s main contact in that community had a motorcycle, but it was stolen. They relayed similar good news about reduction in rates of malaria, but have not been in good communication.

The radios and phones are proving broadly useful: the teacher in Iguana told Jkali through the radio, who then communicated with Egleé by phone the need for school supplies for Iguana. Egleé sent money to Jkali for the supplies, which he then purchased. Gerardo used project funds to secure important medical supplies for Kayama.

School supplies purchased for Iguana community
Gerardo’s photo of medical supplies for Kayama

Just as Jkali, Gerardo and his family were preparing to return home, coronavirus arrived in Venezuela. Its extent is unknown. Gerardo, Jkali, and the very few other Jotïs visiting cities and towns made the difficult and important decision not to return to their home communities, lest they bring the virus with them. They are staying in the city, and in communication via radio with their communities. Egleé is fearful for these Indigenous communities: “for them”, she says “illnesses go straight to the lungs”. She has seen how small colds can become pneumonia, so she celebrates these community leaders’ choices. The project has been supporting Gerardo and Jkali’s courageous decision to stay away from home with a small stipend to purchase food. Jkali is supplementing his stipend by hunting on the outskirts of town, and on 19 March posted a picture of himself wearing a facemask, and encouraging friends to do the same.

Jkali promotes the use of face masks to stay safe
Gerardo’s photo of medical supplies for Kayama

(Photos by Jkali and Gerardo)

This article was submitted as a report for the No one should die of malaria today campaign on GlobalGiving.

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