Friday, January 7, 2011
Esto es Salud Publica
By: Megan Kirschner
Today we had the amazing opportunity to meet a woman named Maria Ivania. Maria’s story is one that speaks to the depth of poverty and injustice that some of the smaller communities in Nicaragua are living with. By the age of 14 Maria was a community leader and was helping provide basic medical care to the people in her village. The village consists of about 110 homes with two families per home. This may evoke an image of some sort of suburban multi-family neighborhood in the states, but it is far from that. The homes in the village called Juan Emilio Menocal are constructed of plywood and tin roofs, the streets are narrow, unpaved, and dusty, and there is no running water for part of the day. In their village it is a daily struggle to provide basic needs like health care, education, and electricity. That is why Maria’s story is so amazing.
Maria voluntarily runs a health clinic from her home for the children in her community. The clinic is funded by an NGO (Non Governmental Organization) from Canada that provides funds and medication to villages like hers throughout Central America. Maria’s neighborhood was one of 5 chosen out of 80 applicants to receive funds from the organization. She acts a nurse and liaison between the community members and the doctor that comes to give consultations once a week. While the consultation is open to the community including adults the medication and doctor are specifically for the children who typically range from age 0-15. During the consultation the doctor diagnoses the children and adults; the adults are directed to go to the public health clinic and Maria is instructed on how to treat the children. Some of the common health problems Maria sees are respiratory problems, specifically asthma, parasitic infections, and hypertension.
Along with treatment plans Maria also provides first aid to the children. Through classes that meet once a week Maria has learned how to stitch wounds, take blood pressure, and administer breathing treatments. Though the NGO will restock basic medical supplies and medication when Maria runs out, there often is not enough to go around. Maria told us a story about a little boy who fell and cut his knee. Since his parents were both working, the boy went to Maria for help. Maria was able to clean the wound but did not have any bandages to cover it leaving the boy prone to infection. Access to first aid supplies and medical equipment is a constant problem.
As dire as this situation may seem this community is resilient. Together they fought to get legal electricity for their community. Since their neighborhood does not have a title and is not legally recognized, the electricity was initially being taken from a main line, which caused outages. The electric company did everything in their power to deny the community of electricity. They raised money, and through much pressure, threats and three months without electricity they were successful. They now have had electricity for 4 years. It’s a stark reminder of what we take for granted in the states.
The NGO providing funds mean the health clinic to be a one year pilot program but has lasted for 15 years; so each year Maria is worried that the funds will stop. She vowed to continue working until the funds stop. This is truly public health in action, I find it empowering that a woman like Maria has been motivated and dedicated enough to fight for what she believes in. It is a fight that is necessary; Maria wants to raise consciousness and awareness about the problems in her community and others like hers.
I’m so thankful for my experience today. After meeting Maria and spending time with the children in the neighborhood, yo soy inspiro. I can’t wait to share my experience with family and friends. All my love, from Nicaragua.