Manuel is a Shuar leader in the Kuamar community in Ecuador. In June 2020 he tested positive for COVID-19. For days he and his community of 120 people requested medical attention from Ecuador's National Health System (NHS). They received none. When this audio went viral along with other voices calling on the Ministry of Health to act, doctors visited Manuel's community. At first, they dismissed a COVID-19 infection. They insisted Manuel's breathing difficulties were a result of him "living in a hut filled with smoke." Doctors left leaving some medicines to treat the respiratory difficulties. Days later they came back (again, due to pressure from doctors and anthropologists who have long known Manuel and his community). NHS personnel said it was not a COVID-19 infection but rather “a seasonal tropical disease.” Because Manuel was very sick, they took him to a hospital where they offered psychiatric support since Manuel asked again to be tested for COVID-19. Manuel’s respiratory condition worsen and eventually he was tested for COVID-19. Two days later, by mid-July, he tested positive.
Manuel’s story is not unique. In Ecuador, Indigenous Communities denounced the lack of medical attention and the continuance of extractive business operations (oil extraction) in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Communities have alerted of the dangers they face in territories with difficult access and distant to any health facilities. Waorani leaders even brought a lawsuit—which they won in late June—against the Ecuadorian state requesting more transparency and communication between the Health Ministry and community leaders. Distrust between Indigenous Communities and government health practitioners is not new. There is little understanding of what a true intercultural health would look like and biomedicine practitioners are seen with suspicion and distrust. Now that we face a pandemic there is urgent need to rethink our risk communication strategies and account for the many voices that need to heard in the various scenarios around us.
This text acompanies Manuel Maiche's testimony on Shuar people's experience with COVID-19 and the miscommunication with Health Systems in Ecuador