HC Deb 16 December 1949 vol 470 cc345-7W
Mr. Skinnard

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies (1) if he will inquire into the lack of medical supplies and hospital accommodation at Lethem, British Guiana, as a result of which 50 Indians died in a recent outbreak of measles;

(2) how many Indians live on the Government Compound at Lethem in British Guiana; what type of accommodation is provided for them; and whether Europeans have freedom of access to the women's quarters;

(3) whether he is aware that an Indian woman in the Rupununi district of British Guiana was recently stripped and flogged in front of her children and a group of men; and whether he will ensure that the present regulations governing the employment of Indians are strictly applied.

Mr. Creech Jones

, pursuant to his reply of 30th November, 1949 [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 470, c. 1143–41 gave the following information

(1) An outbreak of measles recently occurred amongst the population of 5,000 Amerindians thinly scattered over a wide area of the Rupununi district, which is some 40,000 square miles in extent. There were 600–700 cases and 37 deaths. The severity of the outbreak is attributed to the lack of natural or acquired resistance to measles, and deaths were due to pneumonia supervening in the early stages. An adequate supply of sulpha drugs was flown in and their prompt distribution undoubtedly reduced the number of deaths.

Lethem is a purely administrative headquarters with a very small resident population. Centralised hospital facilities would not have assisted greatly in combating the outbreak as, in the absence of communications and at the height of the wet season, it would have been impossible to bring cases in over distances. There is a qualified nurse and dispenser at Lethem and two Medical Dispenser Rangers operate in the area; cases requiring hospital treatment are usually flown to Georgetown. Two medical officers were flown in to supervise measures against the epidemic.

(2) The permanent Amerindian staff at Lethem comprises five adults and one child, but the number of residents is increased from time to time by transient and temporary workers engaged in building operations, and is at present 31 adults and 8 children. Accommodation is provided in the former military barracks but it is hoped to build new quarters for the permanent staff and an Amerindian Rest House next year. Only resident families have access to the quarters. There are no Europeans resident in Lethem and only occasional visitors.

(3) Inquiries during the past months have failed to confirm this story. A report was received by the Commissioner of the Interior last October concerning the alleged flogging of an Amerindian woman, but she herself denies this. The whole question of the enforcement of regulations and the protection of Amerindians has been exhaustively reviewed by the Government of British Guiana. A new Amerindian policy has been approved and fresh legislation is being introduced as soon as possible.

In regard to a supplementary question about the smuggling of spirits across the Brazilian border, the sale of alcohol to Amerindians is forbidden by law; but it appears that some Amerindians have become addicts to alcohol, which can only be obtained by smuggling in this way. The frontier is so extensive that smuggling could only be prevented by elaborate police measures, the cost of which would be quite prohibitive. There have been, however, no reports of trouble involving Amerindians, the cause of which can be attributed to smuggled spirits.