Following the results of tests last week in the Lima settlement of Cantagallo where well over half the population proved positive, community leaders have filed a case against the state for its failure to protect the health of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

With the support of the Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL), the case seeks a tailor-made policy to prevent further outbreaks of the virus in indigenous communities and to meet the requirements of recent legislation (DL 1489). As well as the Shipibo, the legal claim identifies the Awajún, the Ticuna and the Yine of Loreto, Ucayali, Amazonas and Madre de Dios regions as being at particular risk, including peoples in voluntary isolation across all Peru’s Amazonian territories.

Meanwhile the Defensoría has called for additional urgent assistance for a further 700 Shipibo marooned in Ica, where they have lost their seasonal agricultural employment and lack the necessary resources to fund themselves during the lockdown and to pay for the cost of returning to Pucallpa. Including 90 children and three elderly, the group’s immediate needs are met by the Qali Warma national feeding programme, overseen in Ica by the regional Defensoría.

Conditions in the home communities of the Shipibo are also critical with typically half of the population around Pucallpa showing symptoms of the virus. For the majority, treatment is with traditional herbal remedies which alleviate early stages of infection but are no long-term substitute for medication and, in extreme cases, oxygen. Both are in very short supply, and prices have risen well beyond the means of the population at large.

Unlike Iquitos which refurbished the hospital’s oxygen plant through public subscription, Pucallpa remains dependent on a local enterprise for oxygen, and it comes at very high cost. Had construction of Pucallpa’s magnificent new hospital been completed on time earlier this year, there would be capacity for producing 100 bottles of oxygen daily.

On a visit to review Ucayali’s response to Covid-19 on 15 May, Prime Minister Vicente Zeballos announced that he would reiterate the request for the materials to be made available to complete the works on the oxygen plant. However, the regional governor faces questions having failed to inform the regional Covid Command of the existence of the oxygen plant at the new hospital. This was left to a whistle blower, a construction worker at the hospital whose wife died for lack of oxygen.