Stories from the Field: Clínica Tzanabaj (San Pablo, Guatemala)

by Deborah Flores, RN, Ed.D, MBA E-mail

Lake Atitlan is a large lake approximately 340 meters deep, situated in the Guatemalan highlands. It is flanked by several volcanoes and surrounded by towns and villages inhabited by descendents of Mayan people. They are proud and strong people. The lake itself is one of the most beautiful in the world.

This lake supports coffee and farm crops. Most of the indigenous population survives on very little money as they make a living from the land. The lake is a major life force in their lives. There is cyclical contamination from fertilizer run off, etc. which leads to bouts of cyanobacteria in the lake.

Although the weather is temperate, the rainy season brings mudslides and flooding, which has been known to destroy homes, commercial property and lives.

There are several small hospitals around the lake; one is public, and the others are private. There are also many clinics which provide basic medical and dental care. These are supported by churches and/or by locals, and some of these are private as well. Providers are predominately volunteers who either come in to the area from Guatemala City or are on short assignments from US, Europe or other parts of Central or South America. Much of the equipment is donated either through medical companies or churches. This in itself can be a challenge.

In December 2010, my husband, a general surgeon practicing in the US, decided to retire from medicine. He is from Guatemala, and for many years has desired to return there. He has always been drawn to the lake area, as so many people are. He decided we could contribute if we opened a health center to care for the people, because basic healthcare needs are difficult to meet. For example, basic dental care is in great need, infants suffer from dehydration and the women suffer from early respiratory disease due to cooking over an open fire that often is not vented properly.

After much deliberation and planning, the clinic is now being built in San Pablo, a town with inadequate water and sewage systems.

Most children get a basic education but seldom leave the lake area. It is a closed community and very difficult to earn people’s trust.

We hired approximately 50 local workers and, with the help of a family member who is an engineer and architect, the workers were taught how to create and build using the earth underneath them. All of the materials are made on site, and rock is hauled from the riverbed to use for the rest of the structures. These men have acquired skills that they will now be able to use for the rest of their lives, hopefully to gain future employment after the project is complete. At this writing, this site has been under construction for over two years. The project itself has had an economic impact on the community, as it is the largest construction project that has ever been implemented in San Pablo.

Before breaking ground, a shaman blessed the land, as this was very important to the local workers. We then joined a local parade to advertise the coming clinic. Our workers started a soccer team for “Clínica Tzanabaj” and wear special shirts to denote who they are. We will continue to find ways to advertise the facility, but in reality, you cannot miss it driving through the area between San Pablo and San Marcos.

Until the clinic is finished, my husband travels from town to town to assist with surgeries as needed. When the clinic is complete, I will join him there to provide primary care. We hope in this way we have been able to impact our world far more than if we had stayed in the US and continued to provide care.

Deborah Flores will be joining the faculty of Research School of Nursing, which is affiliated with Rockhurst Univerisity.  Her husband is a general surgeon who retired early and is providing free care in Central America, and she joins him every few months to assist.

Stories from the Field: Necessary Angels

0014Within the public health community, Community-Based Primary Health Care (CBPHC) is a common point of discussion. But rarely has the story been told by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author or captured in pictures for the National Geographic Magazine. The December 2008 edition shared with the world the story of The Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP) in Jamkhed, India. “Necessary Angels” was the fitting title to a story of history and hope for village health workers who have healed communities, saved lives and transformed the place of the untouchable caste in the process. Continue reading “Stories from the Field: Necessary Angels”

VIDEO about Community-led Total Sanitation in Indonesia – PCI

Solihin asks the crowd whether anyone wants to drink a cup of feces-contaminated water.
Solihin asks the crowd whether anyone wants to drink a cup of feces-contaminated water.

Project Concern International (PCI) is the first NGO in Indonesia to fully implement Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) and offer no subsidies to communities. Watch the video here (and listen to some cool music):

View or download VIDEO here (MPEG4)
Download high-quality video (MPEG2, 700MB)

This video is about 18 minutes in length and shows how CLTS gets started in a community. The CLTS method emphasizes the importance of “natural leaders,” community members who emerge during the triggering session and demonstrate strong motivation and resolve to help their village become “open defecation free.” Continue reading “VIDEO about Community-led Total Sanitation in Indonesia – PCI”

Health Care as a Means to Peace

By Courtney Cawthon

Attending the Community-Based Primary Health Care (CBPHC) workshop on Saturday, October 25 at the 136th annual APHA conference, I was reminded of how there truly can be “power in numbers”.

Having worked in domestically in tertiary care at a well-funded institution (basically the opposite of CBPHC) for almost a year now, I searched for common ground with the international community-based primary care group, relying on my relatively brief but highly educative experiences in international public health. I of course am still interested in community health and primary care, but as others noted in an earlier blog entry from this conference, the funding for positions in that field is minimal.
At the workshop on Saturday, I realized just how many dedicated people there are focused on this area, and that our strength is in combining efforts to accomplish our goals. I often witnessed how a group’s synergy can greatly improve its effectiveness and creativity. At the workshop, we split into 3 groups, each one discussing the major actions needed to further the field of CBPHC, including, documentation and dissemination, raising awareness, and finding funding. My group was charged with discussing how to create or find more resources to implement programs in CBPHC. Continue reading “Health Care as a Means to Peace”

Community-Based PHC: So What’s New??

Trying to keep up with the flow of ideas
Participants Trying to keep up with the flow of ideas

By Janine Schooley

Sometimes I get the question, “So what’s new and innovative in CBPHC?”  The answer is that there isn’t anything new, and that’s the point!  We already know what we need to do.  We have the bullets, as someone said, but the gun seems to be elsewhere or malfunctioning.  I think it isn’t that we don’t have the gun.  I just think we have misplaced it, or it needs some tinkering to get to work, or we need to remind ourselves how to pull the trigger.  I really dislike this analogy for it’s militaristic and violent connotations, but I couldn’t come up with anything better….So, to continue this horrible analogy, we have several bullets and they are inexpensive, tried and true.  We know the power of exclusive breastfeeding, good antenatal care, immunizations, long lasting insecticidal nets, good nutrition, and other low cost, low tech interventions in terms of saving lives and improving quality of life.  We’ve been talking about this for decades, not just amongst ourselves, the practitioners in the field, but at the highest policy levels.  As the September 13-19, 2008 Lancet reminds us, a major milestone, the Alma-Ata Declaration, was issued 30 years ago.  So what’s new isn’t the need for what the Alma-Ata Declaration so eloquently calls for, but perhaps it’s the realization that we still haven’t gotten there.  In other words, we don’t need innovation.  What we need is inspiration and, as Nike so aptly puts it “Just do it!”.  Continue reading “Community-Based PHC: So What’s New??”