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No one should die of malaria today

by Global Diversity Foundation
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No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
No one should die of malaria today
Joti teacher Gabriel in the classroom
Joti teacher Gabriel in the classroom

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 this project has made possible to date. Together with the communities' other strategies, they've made a tremendous difference even in a historically wet year. You, our donors, 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.

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.

"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. 

"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."

Gerardo's photo of the community's preferred radio
Gerardo's photo of the community's preferred radio
It takes a week to reach the city on foot.
It takes a week to reach the city on foot.
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Ni joti aiye: jkyo jkwaini (Joti Community Book)
Ni joti aiye: jkyo jkwaini (Joti Community Book)

A new co-authored book, titled Nï jotï aiye: jkyo jkwainï (Jotï Community Book: History, Territory and Life) has been newly released online here. It offers loving evidence of these Indigenous communities’ commitment to conserving their ecological and cultural knowledge and wellbeing. It also reaffirms project leaders Egleé and Stanford’s long-time partnership with the Jotï.

The book's contents connect strongly to the themes of our project, because they focus on the Jotï’s desire to record their ecological knowledge, and elements of their theory of health.The latter integrates physical, ethical and spiritual health, seen as a state of being. In Jotï, Project Leader Egleé told me, beauty, goodness and health are captured by a single concept, jtï (jau, in the feminine and ja, in the masculine). When you have a harmonious connection with other beings and the rest of the universe that surrounds you, these animals, plants, and other beings care for you if you care for them. Health depends on this strong notion of reciprocity and solidarity. Writing today, I realize that all of us who have contributed to this project have helped to extend that wellbeing based in solidarity.

To create this 530-page tome, Egleé coded information from 20 years of fieldwork data collected together with her husband, Stanford, to draft the manuscript. She took a draft of the first chapter to the community. She shares, “to set the context, I had put quotes containing impressions from some of the other Indigenous groups, anthropologists and explorers who first encountered the Jotï, between 1968 and 1970, and the North American missionaries who followed them.”

The community rejected it out of hand. “We are not interested in what other people who saw us said about us,” they told her. “We are interested in what we said about ourselves, our own testimonies, especially those of our elders who have passed on.” Community members annotated, criticized, and edited the text. When she had readied the final draft, it was brought before a 500-person assembly, which approved the manuscript. The Ian Andrew Porter Foundation is supporting the publication of the book, under the auspices of the medical NGO Acaté.

~

In project health news, the very last of the mosquito nets have reached families' hammocks, not only in the three principal communities, but in the tiny hamlets shown on the map, below—communities as small as 9 persons. Jkali, an Indigenous Jotï health promoter whom Egleé has known since he was a toddler, works with the community health project led by Doctor Oscar. Jkali made the final net deliveries, by canoe and on foot, at the end of August. He used the communities’ networks to organize rendezvous at pick-up points for the most remote families.

"We continue to try to help key medicines to reach the community, even while we are at a distance," says Egleé. Over the last several months, it has been difficult to deliver additional donations of antimalarial medicines. There’s been effectively no way to fly them to communities, due to restrictions on jet fuel. The pilot Enrique, who helped Egleé, only makes trips to support medical or scientific projects, in his work with the NGO Alas para la Salud (Wings for Health). But all the pilots who are committed to supporting Venezuelan Indigenous communities have been grounded since just a few weeks after Egleé delivered nets and supplies in February 2019. The only available flights are with pilots who are not committed to biological and cultural conservation, or to the wellbeing of Indigenous communities. Instead, they work for illegal mining operations.

Despite these barriers, we have just been able to successfully send a small quantity of project funds for the purchase of some medications that recently became available in Venezuela. Gerardo, the director of the community school, is currently in the city of Bolivar. He was able to speak by radio to Ijtë, also known as Gustavo, who is the health coordinator of the community clinic. A certified nurse, Ijtë was very pleased to learn that the needed medication had been purchased and would shortly arrive.

In December or January, it appears that there may be another opportunity to deliver additional waiting medicines and supplies. We will keep you updated! Meanwhile, thank you again for being part of the fabric of health and wellbeing woven by these Venezuelan Indigenous communities. 

From the book: Community members record data, 2002
From the book: Community members record data, 2002
Conceptual drawing, Joti ecology and territory
Conceptual drawing, Joti ecology and territory
From the book: Harvesting honey on Joti territory.
From the book: Harvesting honey on Joti territory.
Joti territory, principal settlements shown in red
Joti territory, principal settlements shown in red
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Eglee celebrates with a community elder in Iguana
Eglee celebrates with a community elder in Iguana

We continue to celebrate that the delivery of all 3,000 insecticidal nets and the accompanying antimalarial medications and medical supplies to Venezuelan Indigenous communities, during a brief window of opportunity in February 2019. That near-miraculous feat was buoyed by your generosity, and the knowledge, determination and goodwill of many actors.

On the heels of our last report, Egleé asked me to particularly recognize the support of Steve, of Rotary International, another committed partner of communities in the region. Steve shared the logistical contacts that made possible the international shipping of the nets, covered the cost of one delivery trip, and donated additional nets for the 300 members of one community who sleep in beds, since our nets were specially designed to protect hammock users.

We are incredibly grateful to have gotten nets into the hands of community members before the elevated malarial risk of an unusually wet summer struck: Venezuela is again experiencing extreme weather, with widespread flooding closing overland routes, and fuel shortages grounding privately-owned planes. That combination has kept us in the planning stages of the next stage of the project. 

Project leader Egleé shared with us that it is “basically impossible to enter the communities now…. We received a donation of malaria medicines about a month ago and there was no way to make it available to the indigenous communities. There are two constraints:

1. It is raining like last year too much, unsafe and very complicated to travel with cargo.

2. The government has new bans for private flights and access to airstrips and plane gas. I contacted Enrique [the skilled bush pilot who helped to deliver the nets and medicines this spring] for instance to plan a flight but he is not flying now since conditions are the worst he remembers....”

Another project collaborator, skilled in navigating the complex current environment, had shared with Egleé the procedure to place an official seal on a humanitarian cargo destined for an Indigenous community. That seal enabled us to deliver a truck full of medical supplies and nets overland to Betania in February, through dozens of military checkpoints. That collaborator recently shared their own frustration with their current inability to reach the remote communities with whom they work:

“I tell you that there is not enough gasoline in the country for piston-engine airplanes,” they wrote. “The last logistic scenarios are being closed to continue working in the indigenous communities in the next 3 months and that is very sad for me. I have… large boxes of medicines and supplies that we have not been able to take to the field because the flights are suspended…[and] a kit of medical supplies and several medicines to serve 1000 people x 3 months, where I also include Kayamá, Iguana, Betania. Now we only need the aviation fuel so that the planes return to flight to take those resources.”

Egleé echoes her collaborator's urgency, and desire to continue work in relationship: “In the last three months I could not reach the communities to actually start the new phase of the project. We are waiting to August and more probably September.”

We look forward to updating you again as floodwaters recede and project leaders can rejoin communities in their ongoing, essential work for wellbeing.

Bush pilot Enrique approaches Kayama with supplies
Bush pilot Enrique approaches Kayama with supplies
Community net distribution event in February 2019
Community net distribution event in February 2019

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Joti community in remote Kayama receive the nets
Joti community in remote Kayama receive the nets

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away” appeared as I opened my laptop earlier today. Yes, I admit to a subscription to a daily inspirational quote! This morning’s quote was fitting, as I came to my desk to write about the progress of delivery of mosquito nets impregnated with insecticide to remote indigenous Venezuelan communities in Iguana, Kayama and Betania. As I thought back on the Skype conversation I had with Egleé late last week, I reflected on the elaborate manoeuvres Egleé performed to deliver the life-saving nets, her determination born of a a genuine zeal to help friends who have become like family.

The journey was complex, and at times, nerve-wracking. Following an arduous journey as cargo from Vietnam (by ship, train and plane!), the nets landed in Caracas, Venezuela early in 2019. In February, Egleé arrived to take inventory of all the donated items—including medical supplies, and 3,000 mosquito nets, 60 bundles in total. She divided them up for delivery to the health centres of each community. As she began moving the nets, she was once again overwhelmed by support for the project, as individuals stepped up and enabled local transfers, both financially and logistically, and offered administrative assistance that granted her, and the supplies, safe passage to their destinations.

It was (and still is) a time of chaos in Venezuela. As Eglee says, “it was a miracle that the nets were delivered”. Five trips were made in total, each marked with its own set of challenges. Ground transport services suspended all trips due to protests in cities throughout Venezuela, and when they finally proceeded, the truck destined for Betania was stopped and inspected 61 times by members of the military. Flight bans and last-minute prohibitions by the Venezuelan government meant alternative arrangements had to be made, including forcing planes already airborne to detour, incurring additional, costly delays. During her first journey to Iguana, the military questioned Eglee’s presence, causing her to abandon the trip. The flight continued with the medicine and nets on board, while a military personnel took her seat in the plane.

Despite all these challenges, they pushed on, and supplies reached Jotï, Eñepa and Piaroa communities from Iguana, Kayama and Betania, who are now more protected against malaria. From her home in the U.S., Egleé shares some photos from her trip and extends her thanks, stressing on the amazing feeling of not being alone throughout her journey. “So many people were backing this initiative,” she says. “It gave me the inspiration and the will to go on. It was not an easy task and was loaded with surreal complexities...but it was successfully accomplished thanks to you.”

Egleé and her international team are now excited about the second phase of their project, which focuses on carrying out research with these same three communities to understand the drivers of the increase in the incidence of malaria, allowing for implementation of targeted, context-specific strategies to reduce malaria morbidity and mortality. Please click here for more information on the “Alleviating malaria in Venezuela” project.

Bird's-eye view of Iguana in the Venezuelan Amazon
Bird's-eye view of Iguana in the Venezuelan Amazon
Checking out the treated nets
Checking out the treated nets
Eglee hands over nets to Piaroa community members
Eglee hands over nets to Piaroa community members
A box of medical supplies sent to Betania
A box of medical supplies sent to Betania
Documentation was carried out during distributions
Documentation was carried out during distributions

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Infographic of donated mosquito nets' trajectory
Infographic of donated mosquito nets' trajectory

Three Indigenous communities in Venezuela will soon begin to effectively prevent malaria. Three thousand insecticidal mosquito nets—specially designed to be hammock-compatible—shipped from Swiss manufacturer Vestergaard’s factory in Vietnam in September. They arrived by container ship in Savannah, Georgia in December, and traveled onward by train to the port of Miami, Florida. Next port of call? By air to Caracas, Venezuela (see infographic).

The nets (see diagram) are poised to arrive to the shipping company’s Caracas headquarters by end of January. Project leader Egleé will be there to receive them and begin delivery, by flight and overland, of as many nets as project funds permit. She has lined up her preferred pilot, who is familiar with the communities and their difficult-to-land airstrips. A doctor committed to Indigenous peoples’ health will accompany her on two of the trips to help deliver much-needed medicines and medical supplies. He will consult with local clinic personnel like Samuel, pictured here, a microscopist in Kayamá for over 20 years.

Egleé will travel first to Betania de Topocho (a Piaroa community), then to Kayamá (a Jotï/Eñepa community) and to Caño Iguana (a Jotï community). Egleé will provide recipients with detailed information on the most effective use of the nets. She will also be able to collect the most current health data with the communities. This will inform local practitioners and their support team to develop future strategies to improve the local medical system. 

Egleé writes, “Please send all your best thoughts and prayers for the successful delivery of the nets and medical items! We hope to offer an account of all our work in a couple of months.” Meanwhile, to enable delivery of all the nets, we continue to welcome your donations! You can help ensure that all the nets reach their destination before the rainy season arrives. Contact susannah@global-diversity.org to make a donation by check, or donate online here.

Samuel (Kayama) identifies malarial strains
Samuel (Kayama) identifies malarial strains
Special mosquito net design for use with hammocks
Special mosquito net design for use with hammocks
Hammocks serve many purposes in Betania de Topocho
Hammocks serve many purposes in Betania de Topocho
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Global Diversity Foundation

Location: Bristol, VT - USA
Website:
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Project Leader:
Susannah McCandless
GDF International Program Director
Bristol, VT United States
$5,012 raised of $12,000 goal
 
70 donations
$6,988 to go
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