Brazil investigates reports of vaccines being exchanged for illegal gold


FILE PHOTO: Yanomami indians follow agents of Brazil's environmental agency in a gold mine during an operation against illegal gold mining on indigenous land, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, in Roraima state, Brazil April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors in the Brazilian state of Roraima are investigating reports that illegally-mined gold is being exchanged for COVID-19 vaccines in the Yanomami indigenous reserve, the prosecutors office told Reuters on Wednesday.

Tribal leaders in the Amazon region have complained of the deals and prosecutors say they will investigate the reports as part of an investigation already underway into the diversion of vaccine shots intended for indigenous people.

Brazil is currently experiencing one of the worst waves of the coronavirus pandemic any country has suffered, and its indigenous people are among the most vulnerable.

The Hutukara Association, which represents the Yanomami people, flagged the issue to prosecutors with the backing of the Instituto Socioambiental, a non-governmental organization.

The association said a health worker in the Homoxi district gave illegal miners vaccines in exchange for gold. The worker also sold gasoline and a generator to the miners for gold, the association said.

"The Yanomami have long complained that materials and medicines intended for indigenous health are being diverted to wildcat miners," Hutukara's Dário Kopenawa Ianomâmi said in a letter outlining the formal complaints sent to prosecutors and the Health Ministry.

Another case involved a separate health worker who met miners at night and gave them medicine in exchange for gold, the association said.

The Health Ministry said it received the letter on April 5 and had opened the investigation.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito, writing by Jamie McGeever; editing by Jane Wardell)

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