SEATTLE, Washington — Reporting nearly 800,000 cases and 32,000 deaths as of October of 2020, Peru represents the hardest-hit demographic by COVID-19 globally. Due to underfunded medical systems and difficult-to-reach communities in the rural Amazon, combatting COVID-19 in Peru has involved a multifaceted approach. Here are four facts about COVID-19 in Peru.
Four Facts About COVID-19 in Peru
- Those in the country’s rural Amazon regions have been disproportionately affected: Only 12% of Peru’s total population resides in the country’s Amazon regions. However, this demographic remains isolated, with limited road systems and sparse healthcare services. Less than a third of those in Amazonian regions have access to medical care. Hospitals in the region oftentimes do not have a consistent team of staff and supplies to care for patients. Loreto, Peru’s largest and main Amazonian region, has reported a total of 21,428 cases and 967 deaths thus far. To put these numbers in perspective, the whole of the region of Loreto has a population of approximately 880,000. The region’s largest city, Iquito, which cannot be reached by car, has reported nearly five times the number of patients than be served in the city’s sole hospital. As Graciela Meza, executive director of Iquito’s hospital, states, a majority of deaths have resulted as a lack of access to oxygen and sufficient medical supplies.
- Peru is running out of medical oxygen: One of the most important resources in treating COVID-19 is medical oxygen. Medical oxygen aids airflow in damaged lungs and is a necessity for roughly 15% of COVID-19 patients. Due to the spike in demand and scarcity of the resource, the price of oxygen increased tenfold in 2020. The price increase exacerbated the shortage, leaving only the extremely wealthy able to afford treatment. Notably, most hospitals in Peru do not have their own oxygen generators and must purchase them from outside sources. Only the wealthiest of hospitals can afford expensive imported oxygen. Many others, particularly in the country’s Amazon regions, lack the vital resource. The Peruvian government announced that it would prioritize the production of oxygen within the country in June 2020. However, even with these new measures, hospitals would only be capable of producing 20% of the country’s needs.
- Food markets are a major site of transmission: As of 2020, only 49% of Peruvians have access to a refrigerator or freezer. This means that daily trips to local food markets are a necessity of everyday life. Being a societal necessity, most food markets were not shut down for national quarantine, and thus became epicenters for the spread of the virus. In one major market in the country’s capital, a staggering 79% of vendors tested positive for COVID-19.
- Efforts to aid the situation have been met with success: Humanitarian organizations and the government have seen success. In response to the lack of medical infrastructure in the country’s Amazon regions, EsSalud, a department of Peru’s Social Health Insurance System, has constructed a temporary hospital in the Amazonian town of Pucallpa. The hospital has 100 beds and 100 oxygen tanks for critical care patients. They also have an additional forty for those with mild symptoms. Likewise, aid from the U.S. has been one of the largest contributors towards combating COVID-19 in Peru. As of October 2020, the U.S. has allocated more than $28 million towards the cause. In June 2020, the U.S. donated 250 ventilators to Peru, increasing the country’s ventilator capacity by 19%. Additionally, in a $250,000 effort by USAID targeting vulnerable Venezuelan immigrants to Peru, volunteers were able to increase access to basic household and sanitary items for 4,200 Venezuelan families.
In a country with vulnerable populations and scarce medical resources, COVID-19 poses an extreme threat to public health. While assistance from foreign aid does work to fill in the gaps, domestically funded medical infrastructure still falls short. The country’s most vulnerable areas need to have access to government funding to mitigate COVID-19 in Peru.
– Jane Dangel