LIMA, Peru — Countries in South America are facing tough times with the COVID-19 pandemic. While Brazil has gained most of the attention for its outbreak, Peru is not far behind in the troubles it has faced recently. Peru’s GDP declined by 40% in the month of April. Within the first few weeks of June, 2,000 people died from the virus. Now, Peru during COVID-19 has the second-highest number of cases in South America behind Brazil, at around 233,000 with 6,500 dead.
Peru During COVID-19
Peru had originally imposed a strict lockdown enforced by the police and the military. However, many are risking their lives and exposing themselves by working “informal” jobs such as street vendors. These “informal” jobs make up more than half of Peru’s workers outside of agriculture and around a fifth of the total GDP. These jobs lack protections like unemployment and healthcare insurance, which would be especially beneficial to these workers who would not have access to healthcare if they got COVID-19. A survey of these “informal” workers found that around half of them have stopped receiving pay due to the current economic circumstances.
In early June, the capital of Lima saw many street vendors evicted en masse due to lockdown restrictions. However, in rural areas, lockdown restrictions tend to be less enforced, helping the spread of the disease along in the country. A lack of refrigerators also contributed to the current crisis as many people pack markets to get their perishable food every day. Only around half of the population have a refrigerator. Furthermore, only “one in three households has access to running water.” This makes sanitation a big problem, especially during COVID-19.
Partners in Health
Currently, the U.S. government is contributing $2.5 million in aid to help Peru face its COVID-19 problems. USAID is working with the Peruvian branch of the U.S.-based private non-profit Partners In Health (PIH), known as Socios En Salud (SES). The U.S. branch of PIH is also providing more than $1 million dollars in aid on its own from its Boston-based headquarters. PIH is one part of the many public and private members of an alliance the U.S. government has formed to respond to the crisis in Peru. The alliance is going to set up a medical call center to provide 450,000 teleconsultations for those struggling with healthcare access. It is also attempting to make “18,000 outreach visits” via community health workers in the cities of Lima, Lambayeque and Loreto, which are some of the hardest-hit areas.
While originally praised for its early action, Peru during COVID-19 is facing some tough questions on how to deal with rising cases and death tolls. The “informal” work system and crowded markets that were staples in Peruvian life have become its downfall. Without systems like unemployment insurance, it seems many will suffer not just healthwise but economically as well. Many will risk their lives for money to eat and keep a roof over their family’s head. Hopefully, American aid, alongside others, can help the country get through this pandemic, which has exposed deep inequalities in Peru.
– Tara Suter