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Indian Government Intervenes In Stone Age Tribe Health scare

The Andamans are home to five rare tribes -- the Jarawas, the Great Andamanese, the Onges, the Sentinelese and the Shompens, each numbering fewer than 350 members. Photo credit:
by Pratap Chakravarty
New Delhi (AFP) May 12, 2006
India is sending experts to the remote Andaman islands amid warnings a reported outbreak of measles among the Jarawa tribe could wipe out the Stone Age aborigines, officials said Thursday.

An eight-member team of health experts and members of the national Planning Commission was flying out to the Andaman capital Port Blair on Friday.

"The sub-group on Jarawas would be in the Andamans to review the status of the tribe numbering 350," an official told AFP.

The team, which includes junior commerce minister Jayram Ramesh, set off amid allegations that local officials attempted to cover up the scale of the measles outbreak on the Indian Ocean archipelago.

"Twelve confirmed cases of measles are in the G.B. Pant Hospital and five-six more patients from the Jarawas are expected today," said Samir Acharya, founder of the Society of Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (SANE).

"There are clear guidelines of the World Health Organisation on measles and it seems someone is out to cover up the outbreak," said Acharya of SANE, Andaman's largest NGO which works to protects five endangered tribes.

London-based rights forum Survival International said 42 Jarawa children have caught measles in the last three weeks. It said an epidemic could wipe out the tribe which has lived for 50,000 years in the tropical islands.

"When 108 Jarawa contracted measles in 1999, the same authorities denied that the Jarawa had had measles, but were forced to concede several weeks later following the testimony of doctors on the islands," the forum said in a statement.

Acharya said Andaman health chief N. Sadasivan was being "misguided" by advisers on the islands, where the 2004 tsunami devastated coastal habitats.

Sadasivan denied the charges and said the 12 Jarawa children kept in medical quarentine under police guard suffered from mere "heat rashes."

"Like the rest of India, we too suffered a heatwave and sudden downpours and these 12 Jarawas have only heat rashes and not measles as has been reported by various NGOs," Sadasivan told AFP.

"My doctors are going daily into the jungle areas, they are going in today also and there has been no outbreak of measles among the Jarawas ... there has been no mortalities and no morbidity," the health chief said.

Pant Hospital physicians, speaking on condition of anonymity, scoffed at Sadasivan's claim.

"Even an idiot would know from the medications that they are not for, of all things, heat rashes," one doctor said.

The Andamans are home to four other rare tribes -- the Great Andamanese, the Onges, the Sentinelese and the Shompens, each numbering fewer than 350 members.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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