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Project October 22, 2020

Shipibo-Konibo: An Indigenous Community Resists With Medicinal Plants Against the COVID-19 Virus



Addressing the use of traditional plant-based medicine is a gateway to the diverse flora that the Shipibo-Konibo have long used and protected. However, now, this awareness linked to plants is in danger of disappearing.

The epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic has moved to the Peruvian Amazon, endangering the lives of the Shipibo-Konibo indigenous people. Faced with government negligence over the lack of medical care and the only Amazonian hospital that has collapsed, the Shipibo-Konibo, for the first time, decided to organize themselves. In May, they created groups of traditional nurses in order to care for the different communities along the Ucayali River. 

However, many communities that do not have access to public health care have opposed the use of plants as an alternative to occidental medicine. The presence of the Catholic and Evangelical churches has transformed the cultural and traditional system of these communities, causing many Shipibo-Konibo to show total rejection of both the presence of the organized nurses and their traditional methods. Such is the case of the Caco-Macaya community where the church has a very important position. According to Roger Mondaluisa, a traditional nurse, he witnessed the rejection of their methods, the self-medication with altered antibiotic injections and therefore, the death of many Shipibos in remote places. 

This complex situation has left many affected in total desolation since without resources or alternative medicines, they cannot recover and the number of deaths in the Amazon continues to grow. According to John Salcedo, Regional Manager of Indigenous Peoples, to date there is no exact record of the number of Shipibo-Konibo deaths per Covid-19, but they are approximately 2,000 people. 

Ronald Suárez, president of the indigenous organization Coshikox, lost his mother along with seven other relatives due to Covid-19. He assures that the disappearance of Shipibo-Konibo elders is very serious since with them goes the conscience linked to the use of plants and the biodiversity of the Peruvian Amazon. Like Ronald, many Shipibo-Konibo consider this situation as a genocide by abandon.