As we have been advertising for the last few weeks, we are replacing this year’s Peru Support Group annual conference with a full programme of webinars reflecting on Peru’s experience with Covid-19 and what it implies going forward. The first was held on Saturday (5 September) with three panellists from Peru. (See here to access a recording of the webinar. A more detailed summary in Spanish of the rich discussion from the webinar will be available there shortly.) Our moderator was Barbara Fraser, a journalist who has lived and worked in Peru for 30 years. The key question asked was: how come Peru started so early and so well with its first measures on 15 March, but is now faring so badly with the highest death rate per capita in Latin America?

Ruth Iguíñiz-Romero spoke on health policy and its failures, Carlos Herz contributed from his deep understanding of southern Peru, and Rafael Barrio de Mendoza from his work on the northern coast. All three spoke from their specific vantage points, provoking a wide-ranging discussion involving those who joined us for the webinar.

The theme that resounded throughout was the fragility and over-centralised nature of the Peruvian state. The pandemic was a situation that cried out for a locally sensitive response, drawing on community cooperation, but it encountered a system which – for fear of corruption and loss of central control – could hardly have been less prepared for such a response.

The system, our panellists sustained, was characterised by high but inefficient and inappropriate levels of central control, policy developed in ‘silos’, and the domination of a ‘clinical’ vision based around hospitals not around the needs of society. Individual public servants did not have the training nor, indeed, the authority to respond to new situations not covered by pre-existing norms. The fundamental reforms implied by such tensions could hardly be brought about in the short term, but a start had to be made. It hasn’t.

The final challenge posed to the panellists by Barbara was: if you can only recommend one thing to do right now, what would it be?

  • Ruth focussed on the need for positive leadership. We need to know what to do to respond to the immediate challenges of the pandemic going forward, not just what not The agenda needs to be more positive.
  • Carlos argued for the strengthening of local capacities, and more networking and promotion of the power for change that resides among communities.
  • Rafael rightly reminded us of how powerful local action had been in the time of cholera in the early 1990s. Grass-roots communities needed to be empowered to take on and solve these situations to reduce the risk of contagion.

The next webinar will be in three weeks’ time on Saturday 26 September. It will focus on the Amazon and the impact of the pandemic on indigenous peoples. Mark your calendars for 4pm UK time, 10 am Peru time, on the 26th. We hope you can join us and give your input. See here how to register for this and the later webinars.