Society Chronic malnutrition: eight out of 10 Yanomami children suffer from nutritional disorder

In the Maimasi village, the eight-year-old girl weighed only 12.5 kilos, stricken with malaria, pneumonia, worms, and malnutrition. (Reproduction/Folha de S. Paulo)

Marcela Leiros – Cenarium Magazine

MANAUS – Chronic malnutrition is the painful reality that Yanomami children face in the largest Indigenous Land (TI) in the country and is pointed out, by experts, as one of the results of the “anti-indigenist policy” of the federal government. In 2019, eight out of every 10 children under the age of 5 suffered from the condition. Currently, with the Covid-19 pandemic and the advance of illegal mining, the situation has reached alarming levels, as shown in a report broadcasted this Sunday, 14, by Fantástico, of Rede Globo.

The Yanomami TI covers 9 million hectares and encompasses the states of Roraima and Amazonas. There are 30,000 indigenous people who inhabit the extensive area inside the Amazon rainforest, and the images of malnutrition among children are shocking. The short stature, the weight below that recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the swollen belly are characteristics of the little Yanomami who end up being affected by infectious diseases and parasites.

To the weekly news, the pediatrician and nutrologist at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), Maria Paula de Albuquerque, pointed out the possible causes of these physical characteristics. “It reveals a possible parasite infestation, or a possible malabsorption syndrome, which is when the intestine has no way to absorb the ingredients, so it distends”, explained the doctor, also highlighting the consequences of malnutrition on children’s health. “The more malnourished the child is, the greater the chances of him having the infection from any cause, it can be respiratory, intestinal….”, she highlights.

Yanomami child with an enlarged belly. (Amazon Network)

Image of death

In May of this year, an image traveled the world and became a portrait of the reality of the health crisis affecting the Yanomami people. In the Maimasi village, a child lying in a dark hammock was so thin that it was possible to see her ribs. The girl was eight years old and weighed only 12.5 kilos – the normal minimum weight for her age would be 20 kilos – stricken with malaria, pneumonia, worms, and malnutrition.

Record shows Yanomami child in a state of severe malnutrition. (Promotion)

The lack, or shortage, of medical care, coupled with deficient environmental enforcement, pushes the Yanomami into a desperate scenario. It is estimated that 20 thousand illegal miners operate in the territory. The mining activity contaminates the rivers with mercury and has caused deformities and diseases in women and children, according to the indigenous leader of the Yanomami people, Dario Kopenawa told CENARIUM on October 6.

“The children are coming out with malformations. Women and children are already showing symptoms of itching, and also stomach pain, diarrhea and urinary infection, because we are drinking dirty water. It’s not just the water, the whole Yanomami territory is polluted”, warned the vice president of the Hutukara Associação Yanomami.

The consequences of illegal mining in the Yanomami Indigenous Land (TI). (Reproduction/Rede Amazonica)

“This situation of abandonment predates the Bolsonaro administration. However, under Bolsonaro the alarming situation of Yanomami children is the same or worse”, Jesem Orellana, an epidemiologist from Fiocruz Amazônia, tells CENARIUM, one of the authors of the study that pointed out the chronic malnutrition of Yanomami children.


In Brazil, health care for the Yanomami is the responsibility of the Special Indigenous Health District Yanomami (DSEI-Y), linked to the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health of the Ministry of Health. The territory is divided between the Yanomami and Ye’kuana ethnicities, distributed in 258 villages, most of them located in remote areas with access only by air or river.

The isolation and difficulties imposed by the location of the indigenous people make medical care difficult, but does not prevent the federal government from extending health policies considered ideological to the territory. A document obtained by the CPI of the Covid, which investigated the actions and omissions of the federal government in the pandemic, showed that between June 30 and July 5, 2020, the Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health (Sesai) and the Ministry of Defense took 100,500 tablets of chloroquine 150 mg and 16,158 tablets of azithromycin 500 mg and 600 mg to 75,000 indigenous people from the Suru-cucu, Auaris, Uiramu-ta, Flexal and Ticoça communities in the state of Roraima.

The drugs with no proven effectiveness for treating the disease were among the nearly four tons of medical supplies and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) distributed also to 1,762 health professionals of the Special Indigenous Health Districts (DSEI) Yanomami and East of Roraima. The operation was called ‘Yanomami Mission: Raposa Serra do Sol’.