As coronavirus spread quickly through Peru’s Amazon, the Indigenous Shipibo community decided to turn to the wisdom of their ancestors.
Hospitals were far away, short on doctors and running out of beds. Even if they could get in, many of the ill were too fearful to go, convinced that stepping foot in a hospital would only lead to death.
So Mery Fasabi gathered herbs, steeped them in boiling water and instructed her loved ones to inhale the vapours. She also made syrups of onion and ginger to help clear congested airways.
“We had knowledge about these plants, but we didn’t know if they’d really help treat COVID,” the teacher said. “With the pandemic, we are discovering new things.”
The pandemic’s ruthless march through Peru, the country with the world’s highest per-capita confirmed COVID-19 mortality rate, has compelled many Indigenous groups to find their own remedies.
Peru is home to one of Latin America’s largest Indigenous populations, who have lived in the Andean country long before the arrival of Spanish colonisers.
Fasabi said the remedies are by no means the cure, but their holistic approach is proving effective.
Lizardo Cauper, president of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest, said of the 500,000 Indigenous people living in the Amazon, an estimated 147,000 have been infected by the virus and 3,000 have died.
While some recover with ancestral remedies, the less fortunate ones often die at home.
A government team travels from one thatch-roofed home to the next, picking up the dead who are taken to the COVID-19 cemetery.