Indigenous leader in Brazil survives COVID-19, recalls first meeting MSF 30 years ago

Brazil 1996 © Remco Bohle

When Jacir de Souza, an indigenous Macuxi leader in Brazil's Roraima state, was treated for COVID-19, it was not his first encounter with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). In the early 1990s, MSF came to de Souza’s community in the Amazon region as part of the response to a malaria epidemic. “They said, ‘We're going to help. We invited indigenous people from all over Roraima to be trained as lab technicians and microscopists,’” de Souza remembers. Many of the people MSF trained some 30 years ago continue to work in their communities to this day. “There was malaria throughout the state, and then [with the work] it was gone. It was really over!” During the COVID-19 pandemic, MSF has focused on the most vulnerable people in Brazil, including those in indigenous communities which often lack access to medical care. Our teams worked in Roraima state's Boa Vista field hospital, where de Souza received treatment and recovered, from June to September this year. Unfortunately, others close to him did not survive. “I did not expect it would be such a tough disease,” he says. “I lost my younger brother, I lost my mother-in-law, I lost my aunt. I don't know when this disease will go away.“