Members of one of Ecuador’s Indigenous communities have fled into the Amazon rainforest for shelter after fears that it could be wiped out as coronavirus infections rise in its territory.
With about 744 members, the Siekopai nation, along the border between Ecuador and Peru, has 15 confirmed cases of the virus. Two elderly leaders died in the last two weeks after showing symptoms of COVID-19, the group said.
A large number of Siekopai have presented symptoms related to the outbreak but, after they sought help from a government health centre in nearby Tarapoa city, doctors told them they just had a “nasty flu”, community President Justino Piaguaje said in a meeting held via social media on Monday.
When the first of the elderly died last month, Siekopai leaders urged Ecuador’s government to fence off the community and test the inhabitants but have received no response, he added.
“There are barely 700 of us. In the past, we were victims of this type of disease and today we don’t want history to be repeated.
“We don’t want our people saying that there were 700 of us and now there are 100. What a scandal it would be for the Ecuadorian government to leave us with such a sad story in the 21st century.”
Fearful of the coronavirus and to avoid infection, dozens of children and elderly Siekopai fled in canoes to Lagartococha, one of Ecuador’s largest wetlands in the heart of the Amazon.
Siekopai who stayed behind in their territory in Ecuador’s Sucumbios province are turning to homoeopathic medicines to cope with respiratory problems, said Piaguaje.
Other Indigenous groups in Ecuador’s Amazon also have confirmed coronavirus cases, according to Indigenous organisation CONFENIAE.
Human rights organisations working in Ecuador’s Amazonian regions say the health ministry is neglecting communities such as the Siekopai, who have yet to receive tests or medical supplies despite their vulnerability.
“They are in serious risk of being physically and culturally wiped out by the spread of COVID-19 in their territory,” said Maria Espinosa, a human rights defender with the group Amazon Frontlines.
In neighbouring Peru, Indigenous groups submitted a formal complaint to the United Nations in late April, saying the government had left them to fend for themselves against the coronavirus, risking “ethnocide by inaction”.