There are approximately 476 million indigenous people in the world, making up 6 percent of the global population. There are indigenous populations in more than 90 countries worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines indigenous populations as “communities that live within, or are attached to, geographically distinct traditional habitats or ancestral territories, and who identify themselves as being part of a distinct cultural group, descended from groups present in the area before modern states were created and current borders defined. They generally maintain cultural and social identities, and social, economic, cultural and political institutions, separate from the mainstream or dominant society or culture."

Compared to non-indigenous populations, indigenous populations around the world are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and disproportionately affected by the pandemic compared to non-indigenous people. Indigenous women and girls are especially affected. In the United States, indigenous people are 3.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white Americans (adjusted for age). A study by the organisation for Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) and the Institute for Environmental Research in the Amazon found that indigenous people in Brazil were 150% more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to the national average rate. In total, 146 indigenous groups in Brazil are affected by the pandemic. In New Zealand, the infection fatality rate was estimated to be 50% higher in indigenous Māori compared to non-Māori citizens.

Image: Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) and the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) are responding to COVID-19 in indigenous communities in the Amazon region. Source:

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Editor's note

Author: Astrid Hasund Thorseth

Reviewers: Delmo Roncarati Vilela, Bethany Caruso, Susannah Mayhew, Sian White

Last update: 28.10.20

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