The Birth of a Mental Health Programme in the Amazon Published: 20 Apr 2023

The following is the first in a series of blog posts written by Amazon Hope Medical Programme Project Coordinator Román Rodriguez. Over the coming months, he'll be writing about different aspects of the groundbreaking mental health component, and this week, he's talking about the crucial role that two young Peruvian psychologists played in setting up the mental health programme during COVID-19.

BLOG 1: The Beginning 

The Amazon Hope Medical Programme of Peru (PMEAP) has provided health services in various Peruvian Amazon basins since 2002, but, until 2020, there was no mental health component to this programme.

That was concerning for the PMEAP team because mental and physical health are both inseparable parts of the human being. The team members knew there were socio-emotional difficulties in the communities that were likely to exacerbate pre-existing mental illnesses.

In March 2020 two young Peruvian psychologists, Paula Aljovin and Luna Dannon, decided to join PMEAP as volunteers on a medical expedition up the Ucayali river.

At this time, mental health services were nonexistent in these communities and there was no information about the psychological situation of the people who lived there.

That is why Paula, Luna and PMEAP started a pioneering, in-depth, qualitative study based on interviews to explore these peoples’ social and emotional situation.

This work began almost at the same time that the COVID-19 pandemic reached Peru. It was challenging but possible thanks to the will of these two young professionals and the support of the PMEAP team.

They traveled to many communities by the Ucayali basin and conducted interviews with adults, youth, the elderly and community authorities.

The information was analysed using the ecological systems theory developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner, a contextual framework to better understand human development in different dimensions (individual, family, community and socio-cultural).

The results revealed symptoms compatible with anxiety, depression, stress, and lack of emotional control, while many interviewees suffered from gender-based violence, child abuse, alcoholism, teenager pregnancy, and held poor expectations about the future.

Social difficulties such as extreme poverty, misogyny, lack of basic services, environmental pollution and natural disasters worsened the situation.

However, researchers also found some strengths and development opportunities in these communities, which show us that people in vulnerable situations are not only victims but can also be agents of their own development.

So, a mental health programme in the PMEAP services was more than needed and Luna and Paula designed it for 2021.

This programme had three main components:

  • Research (to better understand the socio-emotional situation of the communities in the four basins served by the PMEAP)


  • Emotional support consultations/workshops (to give support, help locals to find alternatives to their present emotional situation and prevent psychological difficulties)


  • Community empowerment (to make these people the protagonists for their own development and to promote the sustainability of the program).


In 2021, PMEAP joined the Alliance for the Amazon against COVID-19, a project supported by USAID and promoted by the Peruvian NGO CEDRO. This alliance made it possible to carry out the mental health program.

That’s how this programme began: sensitivity, empathy, research, theoretical support, planning, partnership, hope and the will to improve the lives of those in most need.