According to local nurse Elias Magin, in the remote Shipibo village Caimito, 80 percent of the society showed signs of coronavirus. The nearest hospital can be reached with an eight-hour boat ride.
When we arrive in late May, Puesto de Salud for Caimito or a group of snakes around a simple building with a makeshift sign declaring a health clinic. It was only 10 am and you could walk patiently waiting to get medical help.
“We have exhausted the medicine the government gave us in the past three days,” Magin said. Said. “The only medicine we stay in is for other conditions. There is no paracetamol.”
Visitors are discouraged
Due to Covid-19, Shipibo discouraged visitors. But after reaching the leader of the Caimito community, Juan Carlos Mahua, he extended an invitation because he wanted to emphasize the destructive effect of the virus.
There is only one way to reach Caimito, and this is an eight-hour boat ride along the Ucayali River from the regional capital Pucallpa, an 18-hour car journey from Lima. Due to the national government’s lock on transportation, we had to get special permission to take the river journey to the heart of Amazon.
We pushed further inside, saw fewer people and more wildlife. We saw a handful of boats and scattered villages along the river.
When we arrived at Caimito, Mahua and Magin were waiting by the river, surrounded by other local officials and bow and arrow fighters. They all coughed and looked sick.
Saluting the village leader, I asked Mahua what she was doing. “Not so good,” he answered amongst the cough spells. “We are all positive for Covid-19,” he pointed to the people around him.
About 80% of 750 people in this community are believed to be infected with Covid-19 based on their symptoms, Magin said. At least four people died.
When the virus first hit, the doctor appointed by the government left Caimito when his contract expired, leaving Magin responsible with a nurse and an assistant.
Covid-19 was diagnosed when a government team visited Caimito and tested about 20 people three days before arriving in Magin. They also dropped materials that were quickly depleted.
Since the clinic has a very short staff, Magin continued to work despite her diagnosis.
Peru’s health ministry did not respond to the request for comment.
Mobile clinic and home visits
During our visit, the clinic was mobile. One patient was being weighed. Another patient took a deep breath while a paramedic listened to her chest with a stethoscope. Like a simple doctor’s office rather than a critical care unit, this police station never intended to deal with a crisis such as a coronavirus. There is no breathing apparatus, intensive care bed, advanced equipment or technology.
After seeing the patients in the clinic all morning, Magin went to the community to check on people who were very sick to leave their homes.
One of his patients is Reiner Fernandez, who had Covid-19 symptoms for the previous two weeks and was too weak to walk to the clinic.
Magin wore protective clothing before entering the thatched roof hut with Fernandez’s wife and four children. Inside it was Spartan made of several furniture and ground irregular wooden planks. There was no running water.
Fernandez was lying on the floor, tucked under a makeshift tent, tired of breathing, too weak to bear. “My heart is excited. It feels like he wants to stop, ”said Fernandez to Magin.
While the nurse was looking at her husband, his wife Karina stood close. He bit his lip and speeded up.
Fernandez had lost 17 pounds since he got sick. He still had a fever. But if things get worse, it would be almost impossible to find emergency medical care – the nearest hospital was in Pucallpa, a city where the virus was overwhelmed.
Little help at the nearest hospital
The problem is not only the deep Amazon – the entire Ucayali region has been affected by the coronavirus. At Pucallpa’s main hospital, workers had to clean the bodies of people who died outside the doors. There is not enough staff inside for patient care.
Dr. Pucallpa Hospital, head of the Covid Ward. “It was hard to see people die,” said Ricardo Muñante. Said. “Seeing people asking for help and not doing anything.”
The staff works in 12-18 hour shifts, wearing full protective clothing at temperatures that can hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There is no intensive care bed left here, and only 1 in 10 critically ill patients is expected to survive.
This is the story played in all the towns and cities in Peru, resulting in more than 257,000 virus cases and at least 8,000 deaths across the country.
Initially, the Peruvian government’s response to the epidemic was fast and sober. Shortly after the first cases were reported in Lima’s capital, President Martin Vizcarra announced a nationwide crash on March 15.
But as the crash continued, more than 70% of people working in the informal economy in Peru suddenly had unemployed, free and little food. Though there are strict restrictions on travel, hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers had no choice but to walk from major cities such as Lima and Pucallpa and by boat to home villages and towns.
Some brought Covid-19 home with them. Others brought it back as they had to travel to nearby cities to receive $ 225 Covid support payments to the government’s low-income households.
There are no banks in Caimito or similar remote Amazon towns. So, residents had to travel to Pucallpa to get their money.
Last week, Vizcarra acknowledged the government’s shortcomings in responding to the outbreak and said there were “many administrative and bureaucratic failures” on June 15.
Social distancing is still a distant idea
In Caimito, the implementation of the measures themselves falls on residents. I have not seen any signs that social restrictions and on-site restrictions have been enforced by local authorities, and Magin said that the natives still do not take the virus as seriously as necessary.
One morning during our visit, Magin carried a microphone and amplifier to the center of the village. He took a deep breath and published his message:
“We have not defeated this virus,” he said. “And yet we’re not socially distant. We’re still going to church, playing sports and volleyball,” his words echo over the speakers attached to a pole above his head.
“And if we don’t change our ways – then we will continue to die.”
A few weeks later, I contacted Magin again. He said the situation was balanced in Caimito, the isolation helped contain the virus, and a community group went to Pucallpa to buy medicines from the regional health ministry.
‘Still still weak, Reiner Fernandez is doing better now,’ Magin said. And there was no new death.
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