Neighbors in Salar de Atacama Fight COVID-19 with Local Strategy

Neighbors in Salar de Atacama Fight COVID-19 with Local Strategy


Community organizing and support from SQM helped reduce spread of coronavirus and increase prevention in the towns.

A healthcare team at rural health clinics and home health visits, voluntary quarantine, disinfection tunnels, strict controls at town entry points, temperature checks, CRP tests and disinfecting are just some of the many initiatives implemented by neighbors in Salar de Atacama to combat COVID-19.
One clear example is Toconao. The town controlled and is even beginning to reduce coronavirus infection statistics thanks to organizing among neighbors: over 200 CRP tests have confirmed 40 cases and today these patients are receiving treatment and out of danger.

This was substantiated by the president of the Toconao Lickanantay community, Yermin Basques, who explained how local community leaders and neighbors set up an emergency committee, with support from SQM. “We tried to generate direct help for people. Nothing would have been possible without SQM’s support. We decided to recruit a medical team for our rural health clinic. Today we have a specialist physician, a nurse and two physical therapists. That gave us the help we needed to control the matter.”

The Lickanantay leader added that, along with the actions mentioned, they are also providing remote consultations, using quaternary ammonium to disinfect public spaces and homes and advising on prevention materials distributed to neighbors.

“We went house to house, delivering daily rations to these families. We also offered them use of a quarantine residence at our accommodation facilities, where SQM set aside 12 rooms to house up to 24 people. It was strategic support. We hope to start putting this situation behind us and continuing to control the virus. The work with the company has been one of understanding. As native people, we can organize and, with good will and mutual collaboration, big things can get done.”

Environment and Community Senior Vice President of SQM Salar, Alejandro Bucher, affirmed the importance of this joint work between the company and the community to fight COVID-19. “Thanks to this partnership, we can help reduce positive cases and also encourage prevention in the community with concrete actions. We have restricted access by company workers residing in Toconao and other parts of Salar de Atacama to keep them at home with their families. Now we will begin to place more physicians in Camar and other towns, in addition to consultations by the general practitioner we have on site. We want to be part of the solution and to work together alongside our neighbors to combat this pandemic.”

Jerome Márquez is a physician and chief of the medical team caring for neighbors at the rural health clinic in Toconao. He is joined by a nurse and two physical therapists. Everyone is working to trace COVID-19 in the community by doing CRP tests and caring for those already infected with the virus.

“When we arrived, 10 people had COVID-19, but they weren’t being treated. In Talabre we also cared for some infected patients. Currently, thanks to neighborhood organizing and medical care, we can say that there are practically no active cases. However, we are still awaiting the results of the latest CRP tests on neighbors. We hope they don’t have the virus either,” explained Márquez.

The medical team also treats pregnant women, chronically ill patients and acute pathologies, as well as doing home visits and check-ups as part of the Mother Child Program. “This healthcare program has been very good for Toconao. The neighborhood organizing and support from SQM during the pandemic are evident,” remarked the specialist.