21 members of some of oldest tribes in Odisha test positive
Some of Odisha’s and India’s oldest tribes, including a few with barely a few thousand surviving members, have reported 21 Covid-19 cases from among their ranks, after escaping the first wave of the viral pandemic almost untouched -- raising concern about the spread of disease in vulnerable groups in backward areas.
The 21 are scattered across eight tribes, and include two from the Bonda habitations of Malkangiri. All infections hav been diagnosed over the past month.
“The infections have been reported since last month and we are keeping a close watch over their conditions. Of the 21, a dozen have recovered. All of them were in home isolation and did not require hospitalisation,” said P Arthanari, Project director of Odisha PVTG Empowerment and Livelihood Improvement Programme.
The Bondas, scattered across 32 remote hilltop villages in the Eastern Ghats of Malkangiri district are believed to have come to India as part of the first wave of migration out of Africa about 60,000 years ago. They were the first forest settlers in India.
Similarly, four tribals from the Dongaria Kondh, another particularly vulnerable tribal group, living in Niyamgiri hills of Rayagada district tested positive on Thursday. Officials said the infected tribals from Parsali grampanchayat of Kalyansinghpur block probably came in contact with Covid positive people in an urban market outside their village area.
“As they sometimes visit urban markets we think they have caught the infection there. We have now started a campaign in the Dongaria Kondh villages to ensure that the disease does not spread. We have been teaching people the importance of wearing masks and maintaining social distance in Kui language,” said Rayagada district collector Saroj Kumar Mishra.
The infections have been reported from 8 districts including Sundargarh, which is among the top-5 districts of the state in terms of active Covid cases.
“We are yet to know how many tribals as a whole have been infected in the second wave. But we guess the numbers would be less than the average in rural areas as tribals maintain social distancing. But we are keeping a clsoe watch,” said Ranana Chopra, secretary of state SC/ST welfare department.
Last year, a study by Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute, a government-run research institute on tribals found that tribal population in Odisha was largely untouched by the first wave of the pandemic due to their habit of keeping to themselves.
Chopra said the state tribal department is now planning to start a five-year health observatory programme in association with Indian Council of Medical Research to monitor the health of tribals in the state. “The programme will begin this year and keep a close watch on overall health of tribal population of the state in an integrated manner.”