Towards the elimination of river blindness in the Americas: Yanomami – the ultimate challenge

For the past twenty years, the Venezuelan Programme for Elimination of Onchocerciasis (river blindness) has been engaged in continuous struggle against this parasitic disease endemic in many Yanomami communities in the Upper Orinoco region. This Programme is part of a wider international initiative aimed at eradicating the disease from the American continent. Currently, out of thirteen endemic areas in six countries, the so-called Yanomami Focus, which comprises both Venezuelan and Brazilian Yanomami territories, is the only area left in the whole continent with the active parasite transmission. The key challenge for both countries and the entire American continent regarding the elimination of river blindness is a hard-to-reach frontier region.
This lecture will discuss the Programme’s main components and activities that are integrated within the overall regional strategy aimed at providing a comprehensive healthcare to indigenous populations in the Amazonas State. Particular emphasis is placed on a recent strategic plan to locate the unknown Yanomami communities (and those whose existence had been known but hitherto had not been reached) and incorporate them into the health system.

Zeljko Jokic is currently a Sessional lecturer in anthropology at the School of Archaeology and Anthropology ANU and an Intern Research Assistant in the Native Title Research Unit of the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). In his capacity as anthropologist-investigator within the Venezuelan National Program for the Elimination of Onchocerciasis, over the last few years he has led numerous scientific-medical teams to various frontier areas of difficult access to locate the unknown Yanomami communities and gather demographic and epidemiological data. Dr Jokic has recently completed a forthcoming manuscript based on his long-term research, The Living Ancestors: Shamanism, Cosmos and Culture Change among the Yanomami of the Upper Orinoco. His main areas of research interest include: indigenous health and wellbeing, indigenous rights and health policy, culture change and identity and the philosophical foundations of social theory and phenomenology.

The lecture will be followed by light food and beverages. Free and open to the public, no RSVP required.