In the absence of a coordinated medical response to the Covid-19 emergency from health authorities, indigenous groups have fallen back on their own resources; self-isolation is proving effective in preventing spread in communities, while herbal remedies play a role in relieving the symptoms.
The approach is most effective in territories that lie far from provincial capitals, such as Condorcanqui in Amazonas, where Awajún community leaders restrict travel to urban areas to the minimum and enforce measures via rondas, typically manned by those who have completed their military service. Those returning from work or study in cities are required to quarantine themselves in the forest at a distance from the community centre.
The Wampis have also sealed off their 85 communities. With only one case identified and isolated, leaders are confident of containing the virus. Throughout Condorcanqui the bono has to some extent mitigated the loss of communities’ outlets for their produce by creating an internal market for the household products received.
In the far north, the 45 Achuar communities of the Pastaza report dengue and malaria but not a single case of coronavirus to date. Having sealed off their frontiers they have requested the delivery of basic medicines to replenish the stocks at their health posts, to be delivered by helicopter to avoid contagion.
The picture is very different in communities within reach of heavily infected areas, such as the ‘triple frontier’ with Brazil and Colombia, where 70% of the population of the community of Santa Rosa de Yavari has now tested positive, and 54% of Caballococha. The tests were the first medical attention received since the pandemic broke out.
The Shipibo of Ucayali, a large and entrepreneurial group of artisans with a settlement in Lima (Cantagallo), have also been severely affected in those communities within reach of Pucallpa. In the severest cases, such as San Francisco, typically half of the population has proved positive.
In the absence of medical attention, a group of ten young Shipibo have mobilised to attend to stricken households with deliveries of a herbal concoction brewed from the matico plant. Known as the Comando Matico, they include an experienced herbalist and benefit from the advisory support of two doctors. The volunteers attend their patients in person, also by mobile phone and online video.
The idea, they explain, is to “share the knowledge passed on by our forefathers”. As their initiative gathers momentum, the Ministry of Health has made space available for their bottling plant.
The Shipibo, Konibo and Setebo council has denounced the abandon in which the authorities have left the indigenous population, particularly considering its vulnerability to the virus brought in by the return of large numbers of young people who had sought better conditions in the cities.
Britain’s Channel Four News reported from a Shipibo village in its bulletin on 5 June on the plight of people living there as well as hospital patients in Pucallpa.