In Ecuador: Vaccinating the Shuar, an almost impossible mission


The figures are not unrelated to this reality that is happening in the Shuar indigenous localities of Ecuador.

According to the data provided by the authorities of the Ministry of Health in the area, to the Tu Barco News, Foro Humanos and CONECTADOS media, the statistics of those infected with the covid-19 virus from March 2020 to the end of October 2022, only in the Morona District, there are 4,644 people who have recovered from the pandemic, while 87 people have died from this virus.

The sources in the Ministry of Health, when asked about how many of the deceased belong to Shuar or Achuar indigenous people, do not provide this information; only the cold number of deaths, which does not reach one hundred, although the cases of deaths fluctuate. The infected and deceased who, according to the person who represented the state at the beginning of this emergency, does not doubt the existence of underreporting, which may be difficult to confirm.

Why can’t the data be equated?

According to Mariela Rivadeneira, an official of the Ministry of Health, it is because the medical brigades could not reach the towns of the Shuar natives, a situation that also led to not being able to comply with the vaccination plan, making it impossible to specify exact statistics.

“Many communities locked themselves in and did not allow our medical teams to pass through, nor did they allow the passage of mestizo inhabitants, because they said that they carry the covid-19, that they carry the virus to spread in their communities, they made fences themselves, which they did not allow the entry of people from abroad, to their communities…”.

Mariela Rivandeneira Ecuador

Mariela Rivadeneira – Official of the Ministry of Health in Morona Santiago – Ecuador. Photo: Wilson Cabrera.

These details, issued by officials from the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health, clarify with more certainty why the Shuar did not accept immunization and preferred to undergo treatments with what they call their own natural medicine.

But what vacuum is causing government entities?

The explanation is given by Juan León, who was at the forefront of the health crisis in this area of southern Amazonia, and warns that the problem is not only in the high percentage of Shear who have not agreed to receive the vaccine but also in a sub registration of infected and diseased.

“The Ministry of Public Health obviously did what was within its reach. But the number of under-registrations is enormous; that is, it is the verified data that has been made public. but there were many more people who could not go to a laboratory or that they simply took refuge in their homes to sustain this pandemic under their own self-control measures…”, said the specialist.

COE Ecuador

Dr. Juan León – Former Governor – President of the COE at the beginning of the pandemic. Photo: Wilson Cabrera.

This would only be what was tried to be applied as a strategy to control an unknown pandemic, because, along with the Shuar’s distrust of the calls from the health authorities, there was and is also the deficient hospital infrastructure.

The Shuar community and their access to health

In the city of Macas, the closest urban population to the settlements of the Shuar and Achuar communities, which are 40% in this administrative jurisdiction and which would have an approximate population of more or less 200,000 inhabitants, there is only one public hospital.

This hospital has a capacity of four ICU beds and 60 hospital beds for patients who need to be treated for diseases in different pathologies.

Hospital de Macas, Ecuador

Macas General Hospital, Morona Santiago, Ecuador. Photo: Wilson Cabrera.

Ricardo Sandoval, manager of the Macas General Hospital, a second-level health home, in dialog with Tu Barco News, Foro Humanos and CONECTADOS, details:

“Throughout the course of the pandemic, we understand that we did not have an intensive care unit, enabled in all the provinces, in the maximum peaks of the hours that it was from Covid; all the hospitals, both in the public part, as well as in the private, they had a collapse of beds”.


Dr. Ricardo Sandoval – Manager of the Macas Hospital – Ministry of Public Health – Ecuador. Photo: Wilson Cabrera.

On a tour of this hospital center, it was possible to notice that they lack not only spaces to care for patients, but also equipment such as respirators, with which help can be provided to people who require care, if a patient were to present again. Outbreak of the pandemic.

Salud ecuador

Respirators used for patients with covid-19 at the Macas hospital. Photo: Wilson Cabrera.

When Sandoval was asked if they had a record of how many Shuar would have attended this health home due to covid-19 problems, he did not specify, but only stated that during the year 2020 a total of 1,192 patients were admitted; In 2021, that number decreased, and only 1,078 people arrived, a number that so far in 2022 has reached 910 patients received.

How many cases of covid-19 of the Shuar did you attend?

After reviewing some documents, he assures that the total number of patients admitted to that hospital in 2020 due to the virus was 286, of which 56 people died.

In 2021, there were 214 patients treated and the death toll reached 36 people; while in 2022 they received 23 patients, in this cycle 4 died, although they are not certain if these deaths were due to Covid-19.

Given these data, Luis Nawech, former president of the indigenous organization, who lives in the jungle town of the Cutucú mountain range, about an hour by car from Macas, pointed out: “I did everything possible to get my associates to go immunized, however, it seems that our medicine is better than what the doctors bring us.”

And he adds: «The people of the communities, most or for the most part have not been vaccinated.»

He points out that they do not, because the vaccines have brought them alleged complications.

«I had led and supported the vaccination plan, I vaccinated two doses, but that has brought complications to my health, I have had four relapses, so upon seeing this, most of the people in my communities have not been vaccinated,» Louis asserted.

Luis Nawech

Atty. Luis Nawech – Leader of the Federation of Shuar Centers. Photo: Wilson Cabrera.

Given his statements, Tu Barco took the opportunity to ask him if the statistics that the Ministry of Health manages regarding cases of patients in recovery from covid-19 or deceased, would be those registered by that public agency, to which he replied:

“The statistics that the Ministry of Health sends are not exact, because there are people who did die, but most of them were due to their age and had many complications; but what I know is that many more did die because the Ministry of Health did not. It reaches the entire territory of the province of Morona Santiago…”.

Also read: The health system in Colombia consolidated its installed capacity due to Covid-19.

The questions

Raquel Sandu, in charge of the health area in that organization, in Sucúa; After previously discussing, answer some questions. “During the covid we did not have any help from the health sub-center of the Ministry of Health; that is why my people dedicated themselves to making their own effort with our natural medicines and we have sustained ourselves at least up to now,”, he affirms.

«As the FICSH, – (Federation of Shuar Centers) – we never said that we are going to get vaccinated, and never my people, until now; they don’t want to get vaccinated, why? Because the Ministry of Health never socializes or clarifies about the vaccines that arrived (…) people asked for clarification to see what effects or consequences the vaccines were going to have, but they never socialized, ”said Sandu.

Lcda. Raquel Sandu

lcda. Raquel Sandu. Health leader of the Shuar Centers Federation. Photo: Wilson Cabrera.

To these manifestations of Shuar leaders, from the District Health Directorate there was a new pronouncement. Mariela Rivadeneira, responsible for the area, points out that 60% to 70% of the vaccines were accepted in the urban area (mestizo). but acknowledges that there is resistance in indigenous communities and does not venture to give a number of non-immunized people in that sector. .

What is evident is that for now, it has not been possible to specify the percentage of non-immunized people in the Shuar localities, but according to approximate data, the figure could be between 75% and 80%.

«There is a lot of resistance in the communities to comply with the vaccination schemes…, we have reached all corners, but nevertheless, we have not had the co-responsibility of our inhabitants of the Shuar communities,» said the official of the Ministry of Health, responsible in this place of Ecuadorian geography.

Doubts persist and official documents are expected to verify the figures; For now, the cloak of doubt about what happened continues. The questions show a dilemma between the community and the state.



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