Members of one of Ecuador’s indigenous communities fled into the Amazon rain forest, fearing that the community would be wiped out as coronavirus infections increased on its territory.
With approximately 744 members, the Siekopai Nation, along the border between Ecuador and Peru, has 15 confirmed cases of the virus. Two elderly leaders have died in the past two weeks after showing symptoms of COVID-19, the group said.
Ecuador has reported more than 31,000 cases in the country and nearly 1,600 have died.
Large numbers of Siekopai had symptoms related to the epidemic, but after seeking help from a government health center in the nearby town of Tarapoa, doctors told them that they had suffered from a “Unpleasant flu,” said community president Justino Piaguaje at a meeting on social media on Monday.
When the first of the elders died last month, Siekopai leaders urged the Ecuadorian government to close the community and test the residents, but received no response, he added.
“We are barely 700. In the past we have been victims of this type of disease and today we do not want history to repeat itself.
“We do not want our people to say that we were 700 and now we are 100. What a scandal it would be for the Ecuadorian government to leave us such a sad story in the 21st century. “
Flee to the jungle
Fearful of the coronavirus and to avoid infection, dozens of children and the elderly Siekopai fled by canoe to Lagartococha, one of Ecuador’s largest wetlands in the heart of the Amazon.
Siekopai, which has remained in its territory in the Ecuadorian province of Sucumbios, is turning to homeopathic medicines to deal with respiratory problems, said Piaguaje.
Other indigenous groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon have also confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the indigenous organization CONFENIAE.
Human rights organizations working in the Amazon regions of Ecuador say the health ministry neglects communities like the Siekopai, who have not yet received tests or medical supplies despite their vulnerability.
“They are in serious danger of being physically and culturally wiped out by the spread of COVID-19 on their territory,” said Maria Espinosa, human rights defender with Amazon Frontlines.
In neighboring Peru, indigenous groups filed an official complaint with the United Nations in late April, claiming that the government had left them to fend for themselves against the coronavirus, risking “ethnocide by inaction”.