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Rob Sullivan

Dropping Like Flies


Posted from: Parana
The extreme environment of the Amazon is taking a heavy toll on the crew. Yesterday our highly talented cameraman Matt Norman tested positive for malaria and had to be evacuated to the nearest town for medical help. Luckily we are just an hour’s boat ride from a remote missionary air strip and we managed to call a plane in very quickly. He is now the fourth person to leave this shoot.

Matt gets his blood-test results

A week ago we had to evacuate our main Brazilian fixer Marco, also with suspected malaria and a possible infection of the liver. Just the day before that our anthropologist Alaina Welper also discovered she had malaria and was evacuated back home to Rio de Janeiro. Our wonderful Assistant Producer, Leticia Valverdes had to leave us near the start of the trip for personal reasons and we are now down to just one Portuguese speaker, who was a late and very lucky addition to the crew, as our key translator. The remaining crew has all had malaria tests and so far we are all negative, though poor Pete, our sound recordist, has suffered four long nights and days of chronic diarrhoea and is feeling very weak. We have become experts in organising evacuations on this series, to the point where we now almost expect it to happen when we research all the emergency options in preparation for filming. It underlines just how remote and difficult this environment is.

The area where we are currently filming is in the midst of several epidemics, principally hepatitis and malaria. The Marubo village of Parana where I am writing from has at least 10 known cases of malaria, including the chief's young son who is extremely ill.

The boy in the hammock is the son of the chief. He is ill and has been diagnosed with Vivax Malaria. He has just vomited up a tapeworm.
The son of the chief has been diagnosed with Vivax Malaria.

Looking up and seeing the plane flying over taking Matt away to safety leaves a strange mixture of emotions: huge relief for Matt but at the same time I can't help but feel almost guilty or at least uncomfortable about the fact that this is simply not an option for the Marubo people. For us it takes a few calls on the sat phone and an hour later a plane appears on the horizon. They rely on over-stretched local health-workers and the power of their shamanic songs. Whilst these songs have worked for generations on local indigenous diseases, the new white man's sicknesses that have come into the area are killing great swathes of the population. The shamans can only stand by helplessly and watch as their children succumb to the latest wave of disease.

Matt is evacuated

We all remind each other in the crew to take our anti-malarial drugs daily and stay covered up with long-sleeves, trousers and repellent. But none of these measures are 100% effective. All it takes is one unlucky bite. The Amazon is a very challenging place, as we keep on discovering. No-one now dares to ask the question...who’s next?

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