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Doctors on the Andaman Islands have confirmed that members of the Jarawa tribe have been suffering from measles. The local authorities had denied that there had been an outbreak of measles within the tribe, claiming instead that a number of Jarawa had heat rash'.
A large number of Jarawa children have been admitted to G. B. Pant Hospital in the town of Port Blair in the past month, with various diseases including pneumonia and eye problems – both common after-effects of measles. All have now been returned to their forest. Doctors told the BBC this week that the children were in fact suffering from measles.
When 108 Jarawa contracted measles in 1999, the local authorities also denied that the Jarawa had had the disease, but were forced to concede several weeks later following the testimony of doctors on the islands. Survival has repeatedly warned that the authorities' failure to keep outsiders out of the Jarawa reserve, and to close the road that runs illegally through the reserve, put the Jarawa at risk of potentially fatal diseases.
Diseases like measles have wiped out many tribal peoples worldwide. In the 19th century, the disease wiped out at least half of the Great Andamanese on one island and all those on another island. That tribe, once 5,000 strong, now numbers only 41 people. In 1978, following the construction of a highway through their forest, four Yanomami communities in Brazil lost 50% of their population to measles.
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