Sunday, November 16, 2014

Top 20 Countdown: #15 Started Network of Health Promoters down to #GivingTuesday on December 2nd, we’re highlighting the CDCA’s accomplishments over our 20 years in Nicaragua. Follow our countdown in this blog, on Facebook and Twitter. Help us keep doing more by giving $20. Our goal is to raise $20,000.

As children we are taught health from an early age.  We learn about parts of our bodies, inside and out.  We learn about germs and how germs are passed.  We learn about how to take care of our bodies… now, many of us don’t take care of ourselves, but most of us know how.

Public health education in Nicaragua is a bit different.  Most poor adults who went to school only went through 6th grade.  Schools concentrate primarily on reading, penmanship, Nicaraguan history and geography, and mathematics… very little about anatomy or health.  People are left to learn about health in the home… not always with the most scientific information.*

In our early years Pat went into rural communities, training health promoters who were often teenage girls.  She took doctors with her to teach some classes.  Afterwards the promoters, with Pat, would go house to house.

After Hurricane Mitch in 1998, we moved much of our health focus to the 12,000 refugees which ate up our time and the rural program ended… for awhile.  Pat tried to get health promoters active in Nueva Vida, the resettlement camp, but it was extremely difficult as people struggled with more pressing crises like food, water, shelter, etc.

Our Nueva Vida clinic started in 1999 and we had the support of 4 community organizers on our staff to organize work projects to improve health and the clinic population… but funding for them ran out.  In 2011, we sent out a plea for funding for a health promoter and we hired a highly gifted community organizer, Jessenia Castillo.

With Jessenia we now have 32 lay health promoters in Nueva Vida and 5 promoters in two of the rural communities… all adults.  These promoters meet bi-monthly to attend health classes, to organize classes in the community, to identify people who need the clinic, and to provide health services to the community. 

Twelve of them keep first aid kits in their home to lend emergency aid when the clinic is closed and seven keep nebulizers in their homes for treatments to those in crisis.  All participate in surveys the clinic does periodically… such as... 

Jessenia & promoter doing PAP survey in Nueva Vida
…A survey to determine if women get PAP tests and if they do, do they discover the results.  Cervical cancer is the #1 killer of Nicaraguan women of reproductive age.  It is easily preventable and treatable when detected early.  With the survey we took the opportunity to encourage women to get tested annually and informed them that our clinic does the tests for free every Tuesday. ..AND unlike the public health clinics who are inundated, we have a turn-around of results in 2-3 weeks… not 6 months.

We teach classes on many and various topics:  women’s health, men’s health, children’s health, geriatric health, sexual health, nutrition, good oral hygiene, pregnancy, labor, birth, breastfeeding, baby care and nurturing, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hygiene, and on and on.

We have support groups.  The first group Jessenia started was a New Mothers group made up of women (many teens) having a baby for the first time.  They enter the group pregnant and are given support for the first year of the baby’s life.  When the baby is born the mother receives a hand-sewn bag from women in the States who fill the bag with needed items.  Most of these mothers do not have baby showers or receive presents of any sort.

We have a support group for mothers with toddlers… those who have “graduated” from the New Mother’s Group.  They learn about child development as well as doing some fun activities.

All our patients who receive care for hypertension and type 2 diabetes are part of mandatory monthly support groups and classes.  The classes are designed to inform patients about their conditions, how hypertension and diabetes affect their bodies long-term, and how to make different life choices - even though limited - to aid in their treatment.

Las Lobas teen group visiting a college for the 1st time
Our newest group consists of pre-teen and teen girls.  28% of Nicaraguan women have a child before they are 18 years old… with few exceptions these are poor girls. 

Nicaragua has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in Latin America[1].  Studies show that teen pregnancy is a choice.  Teen girls are bored, stuck in a home where there is often abuse, and think that an older man will get them out of their current situation.  Becca and Jessenia work with the girls and take them out of Nueva Vida to see more of Nicaragua.  They take them to talk to successful women, to the movies, and to offer them hope.

 Hope, information, and access can lead to healthy lives.

Future Projects:
·         To build a third building to give more room and privacy for health classes, support groups and exercise classes… awaiting funding
·         To revitalize a support group for parents with children with asthmaawaiting funding
·         To train health promoters in how to help people with nutrition issues… awaiting funding

*What many learn from their mothers are herbal remedies which are wonderful… easily accessible, easily absorbed and sustainable.

20 years/20 dollars: help us keep doing more by giving $20.

 - Kathleen