A quick visit to the southern part of the Chiapas province was required to visit the Health Centre in El Triunfo – a small community where the indigenous population struggles with poverty and marginalization.
Thanks to the work of a Swiss-Mexican organization named Madre Tierra, this area has been receiving support and a new health center was built 2 years ago. Julio and Helena – founders and leaders of Madre Tierra, passionate social activists and one of the most devoted couples I have ever met, have struggled for years to help the poor in this area.
The center’s “heart” consists of numerous health care promoters recruited form the local population (people who go the small and remote communities and provide education regarding water hygiene, disease prevention and rights to health care), 2 physicians and 1 dentist, recruited from the capital of the country, 1 laboratory technician and one midwife. The group is enthusiastic and proud of the work they are doing. This is an area of virtually no medical service except the occasional visits by a “traveling physician”. This is common to most of the Mexican rural areas – in the official health center; a physician appears once a week or once a month …or even less. He or she consults patients and prescribes medications. Some drugs are given for free for those who can’t afford them but that are usually the exception – most of the times patients are responsible for paying for their prescriptions and that can mean up to 50% of their monthly income spent on one or two essential medications. Laboratory testing happens seldom – most can’t afford the cost of the transportation to the nearest lab, not to mention the actual testing.
Having a Centro de Salud endowed with its own lab makes the attending physician, Miriam, extremely happy. “I don’t have to wait for days for results that may never come” she says. She tells me that most of her patients are diabetic or blood pressure emergencies. The rest arrive with severe trauma resulting from work accidents (deep cuts followed by severe blood loss and infection, fractures, occasional snake bites). There is no ambulance service, there are few cars available (and most people are too poor to pay for the gas) and the nearest hospital is hours away. I am in awe of this young female physician who defies all medical and societal barriers! We start a conversation about education and prevention, planning a workshop directed at educating mothers about proper child stimulation and mobility (since most children are tightly swaddled and ignored until they become too heavy to be carried, resulting in severe developmental delays).
Miriam has already allotted me a small sleeping space(most staff sleeps on the premises since the center runs 24 hours/day) and plans another workshop on disability and rehabilitation marathon….I am totally sold and it is only with the deepest regret that I return to reality and realize I cannot stay…at least not this time!.
ABRAZOS has helped fund a portion of the salary of the dentist – a lovely woman who ropes every child she can find into a dental hygiene session. She is not too hopeful about the adults – years of neglect have resulted in severe loss of teeth – but she frowns and in a determined voice she says: “Well, we do what we can but it is slow!” The unhappy face of her current patient reminds me of the reluctance we all have when we have to pay a visit to the dentist.
At the same time it brings back pictures of mothers feeding their babies with bottles filled with commercial fruit juice – a frequent image on the streets of Mexican towns and villages. Poverty has many faces and some of them are not as obvious as we think