SEATTLE — Iquitos is a city in northeastern Peru, reachable only via water, air or foot transport as it is surrounded by wild Amazon rainforest and multiple rivers. This city of more than 400,000 residents is a hub for international travelers seeking to venture out into the wilderness beyond the city for various reasons, including meeting indigenous people in remote villages, volunteer work and studying wildlife, rainforest and waterways. Through experience and information sharing of such travelers and cooperation with the government, Amazon Promise, an international team of medical volunteers, is improving health in Iquitos.
Health in Iquitos Shaped by Poverty and Lack of Access to Care
The area of Iquitos considered by medical volunteers to be in the most need of help is the district of Belen, one of Peru’s poorest areas. Residents of the Belen district of Iquitos contend with many extremely difficult living conditions, particularly disease, flooding and lack of access to clean water. Most of Belen’s residents do not have plumbing or electricity. They have difficulty avoiding disease and obtaining medical attention. However, several volunteers have recognized the need for help and are offering assistance. Patty Webster, a volunteer in poor areas in Peru and the founder of Amazon Promise, spoke about her work in a video produced by CauseCentric. In it, she described the Belen district of Iquitos as “one of the most destitute areas I’ve ever seen.”
Webster, born in the U.S., initially worked as a wildlife intern and an adventure tour guide leading groups through Peru’s Amazonian nature. Even though she worked as a tour guide, not as a medical professional, locals brought their sick family and friends to her in the hope that she could help. Webster decided she needed to organize something more professional and extensive that would provide more than the mosquito nets and makeshift medical aid she could offer at the time.
Amazon Promise Brings Medical Care to Those in Need
Webster founded the nonprofit organization Amazon Promise, which she runs from her residence in Iquitos. Amazon Promise is a U.S.-based medical team of volunteers who travel to Peru’s poorest areas to provide healthcare. They care they provide includes prenatal care and general exams, but most often the patients are suffering from illnesses such as malaria, tuberculosis, parasites and snake/animal bites. Amazon Promise also trains local health workers and educates residents about sanitation and disease prevention practices. Webster and her team have reached thousands of patients since 1993 as they work towards improving health in Iquitos. Amazon Promise is growing through the participation of medical volunteers from the U.S. and local Peruvians, and recently the government of Peru became involved with Webster’s work.
As a result of the positive impact she has had on the local community through Amazon Promise, the Peruvian government recently donated land to Webster in order to build a clinic for the people of the Belen district of Iquitos. Webster explained that people in Iquitos are often sicker than people living in the remote jungle villages, and she has long hoped to open a permanent clinic specifically for the people of the Belen district who are in dire need of medical attention. With the Peruvian government’s donation of land for the project, Webster and her team managed to build a temporary clinic and are working towards realizing the construction of the permanent building.
The Larger Impact of Improving Health in Iquitos
One of Webster’s colleagues, Celine Cousteau, pointed out the positive effects that efforts to help the people of Belen can have in the area along the tributaries of the Amazon River. She told CauseCentric, “The communities out here – the indigenous people – are really the caretakers of the Amazon. So, hopefully, by taking care of these people, taking care of their health, we’re also in the long run taking care of this environment.”
As a city surrounded by the thick and wild Amazon rainforest, waterways and small remote villages of indigenous people, Iquitos is of great importance to preserve and strengthen. Patty Webster and her Amazon Promise team are diligently working to improve health in Iquitos, and hopefully, others will recognize the importance of assisting the medical missions in Iquitos. As Webster explains, “Health is the most important [issue]. Education is up there, but if you’re not healthy, you can’t study. You can’t educate yourself or be educated if you’re not healthy.”
– Emme Leigh