Were meetings, strategies, laws, decrees, and pronouncements all that was needed to address Covid-19, the near 420,000 living in Peru’s 700 indigenous communities would not be facing the pandemic three months on without medical supplies or attention.
With 3,000 known infections and 150 deaths and amid daily reports of Covid’s spread, the questions arises: why is the state so slow in carrying out policy decisions in a national emergency? The health authorities of one of the most affected regions, Ucayali, has only reached 7% of the communities since the outbreak, yet the regional government is considered one of the most active in its Covid-19 response.
As we reported last week, it took the direct intervention of President Martín Vizcarra to break the deadlock on the implementation of the Covid health strategy for the Amazon, following a month-long delay in approving and transferring the funds, which even then ended up being 16% less than the original amount announced. The fund is less than 1% of the Plan Reactiva Perú rolled out for the business sector.
For weeks indigenous leaders have warned that plans without funds and follow-up are useless in addressing the crisis. Yet following the call for the release of funds, the first response by the Ministry of Culture was to boost the bureaucracy with a multisectoral commission of 17 volunteers, with indigenous participation but without enforcement powers.
For its part, the Defensoría del Pueblo has called the Ministry of Health to account regarding the effectiveness of its implementation strategy in indigenous communities and its poor coordination with regional governments. Specific information requested includes a progress report on achievements to date; the precise number and location of cases and deaths in the communities; the actual capacity of community health posts; the reasons for the reduction of the budget and details of the plans that will have to be cut; and measures taken by regional government to include data from the communities in the Covid-19 and other registers.
Back on 7 May, following passage of the national law for the protection of indigenous peoples (DL 1489), the regional government of Ucayali had created its own plan in response to demands for an approach that took into account the indigenous context. Indigenous leaders were supportive but warned of the need for implementation and not “to wait for months considering the rate of advance of the pandemic”.
On 22 June, the regional government inaugurated helicopter flights to more than 30 communities with medical supplies for the health posts and capacity for testing for coronavirus. Aidesep welcomed the initiative, which it said matched the demands of indigenous leaders across the Amazon and was an example to be followed.