Indigenous communities comprising half a million people around the world are especially vulnerable to the new coronavirus pandemic due to often poor living conditions, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday.
Director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that as of July 6, there were more than 70,000 cases reported among indigenous peoples in the Americas, with more than 2,000 deaths.
“Indigenous peoples often have a high burden of poverty, unemployment, malnutrition and both communicable and non-communicable diseases, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19 and its severe outcomes,” he told a virtual briefing from the U.N. agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
“WHO is deeply concerned about the impact of the virus on indigenous peoples in the Americas, which remains the current epicentre of the pandemic.”
Most recently, at least six cases have been detected among the Nahua people in the Peruvian Amazon, Tedros noted.
The WHO boss urged nations to take all necessary health precautions, with special emphasis on contact tracing, to try and curb the COVID-19 disease’s spread. “We do not have to wait for a vaccine. We have to save lives now,” he said.
Global infections stand at more than 14.5 million, according to a Reuters tally, with more than 600,000 deaths.
The WHO welcomed news that AstraZeneca’s experimental vaccine was safe and produced an immune response in early-stage clinical trials in healthy volunteers.
The vaccine, called AZD1222 and under development by AstraZeneca and scientists at Britain’s Oxford University, did not prompt any serious side effects and elicited antibody and T-cell immune responses, according to trial results published in The Lancet medical journal.
“We congratulate our colleagues for the progress they have made,” said WHO emergencies head Mike Ryan at the same online briefing. “This is a positive result, but there is a long way to go … We now need to move to large-scale trials.”