, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 515–531 | Cite as

Towards Understanding the Health Vulnerability of Indigenous Peoples Living in Voluntary Isolation in the Amazon Rainforest: Experiences from the Kugapakori Nahua Reserve, Peru

  • Dora A. Napolitano
Special Feature: Indigenous Perspectives Original Contribution


The remote headwater areas of the Amazon rainforest are home to many Indigenous groups who prefer not to encounter and establish relationships with outsiders. These people have not been exposed to many everyday, infectious, Old World diseases and are therefore particularly susceptible to them, with extremely high morbidity and mortality rates. Recent Peruvian governments have encouraged the large-scale exploitation of timber, gas, and petrol in the Amazon. These economic interests have greatly increased pressure on previously remote areas, many of which are home to Indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation. The Nahua and Nanti established direct relations with outsiders in the last 20 years and have experienced major changes in health status, social disruption, and bereavement as a consequence. The description of some of their epidemics highlights these populations’ vulnerability to introduced diseases. Understood as the result of both “internal” and “external” factors, this vulnerability is a combination of their high susceptibility and of social changes resulting from increased resource pressure on their lands. The experiences of the peoples in the Kugapakori Nahua Reserve demonstrate the effects that resource extraction activities (both surface and subsoil) can have on local populations, not only when conducted in their lands (as in the case of the Nahua) but also when they take place downstream of their territories (as in the case of the Nanti). Because their susceptibility cannot be significantly altered immediately or without affecting their rights, the responsibility lies with local and national governments to limit exploitation on their lands. Not to do so constitutes a violation of isolated peoples’ rights to life and health.


voluntary isolation Amazon extractive industry vulnerability rainforest Indigenous health Peru 



The work presented here is the result of six years of work in and around the Kugapakori Nahua Reserve, carried out, as part of Shinai projects, by Aliya Ryan, Conrad Feather, Gregor MacLennan, and the author. The field work with the Camisea Nanti was performed by Lev Michael and Christina Beier and with the Paquiría Machiguenga by Kacper Swierk. An informal “Comité de la Reserva” was formed to support the field component of this work and was made up of Shinai, Grupo de Trabajo Racimos de Ungurahui, Asociación Peruana Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH), Instituto del Bien Común (IBC), and Consejo Machiguenga del Río Urubamba (COMARU). The Reserve Project (2002-2004) was funded by the Garfield Foundation, IUCN-NC, Nouvelle Planète, Oxfam America, and Rainforest Foundation US. We also thank the Garfield Foundation and Rainforest Foundation UK for support during 2006. Thanks also due to three anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Ecohealth Journal Consortium 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ShinaiLimaPeru

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