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Partnering agreement signed with University of Chiapas Medical School



UNACH Medical School Partners in Chiapas

Dr. Olson and President Estrada of UNACH

The University of Chiapas
Three representatives of Partners for Health in Latin America traveled to Chiapas, where they were met by Dr. Jonathan and Maggie Salgado. The Salgados had arranged for meetings with medical school faculty of the University of Chiapas, or U.N.A.C.H. The team also met with university president Dr. Estrada (also a medical doctor).

The World Health Organization and the United Nations have identified 100 municipalities in Mexico as the poorest in the nation, 17 of which are located in the mountains of Chiapas. Each of these municipalities is surrounded by six or seven rural villages. Various universities in the state have taken on the task of helping these communities to develop in a positive direction, hoping to lift them out of their poverty.

As the largest institution of higher education in the state, UNACH has accepted the responsibility of assisting seven of the 17 municipalities in their development.  UNACH has put together a three-pronged strategy to apply resources from the Mexican government, NGOs and the university. Partners for Health wants to be a part of this effort by collaborating with the university to generate a Chiapas model for mobile health care delivery, telemedicine, and advanced technologies.

The Municipality of Ocotepec
After an initial orientation session, the team traveled by van to one of the seven target municipalities, called Ocotepec. Our first stop was in the mayor’s office to pay respects. Just a week before our visit, President Estrada and several medical school faculty were also in the mayor’s office where they signed an initial working agreement to help with Ocotepec’s development. The team also visited a local convent, where they met with two sisters who are actively helping the poor Zogue people of Ocotepec and the surrounding settlements.  The sisters run a shelter for troubled girls who live on the grounds and attend the village schools.

The education level in Ocotepec municipality is very low. For the most part, local teachers are under-trained. They are usually very young people just out of high school.

We learned that an unfortunate lack of confidence in health care providers has built up which has to with the lack of follow-up that the people have received from previous visitors. Chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic respiratory ailments, tumors, malnutrition all need routine follow up for the treatment to be effective.

It is also very important that at least some of the medical people treating the villagers are able to speak the Zoque language, so that they can understand clearly what the health needs are.  This will also help to protect the people from exploitation. There are those who come around attempting to sell them medicines they do not need at very high prices.

Six years ago, in response to these needs, the sisters started a scholarship program for young people. They try to find sponsors who can support a young person to go to the city and finish their educational and nursing degrees. The next step in their project was to start their own school in Ocotepec; they are hoping to eventually include elementary grades all the way through a technical degree. In all their work they try to emphasize local cultural values – to help rescue the culture from oblivion.
The kids are allowed to attend school for free, but the sisters request that the parents be involved in the development of the school. They also have a nutritional program, providing nourishing breakfasts for the needy children before school.

An important aspect of their work is that the students who are sent away for higher education go with the full expectation of returning to serve among their own people. The sisters see this as an investment in the future of the community.
In one more year the first nurses from this program will begin returning to serve in the area.

The Village of Santo Domingo
The team then traveled a few kilometers up the dirt road to the village of Santo Domingo. There we witnessed extreme poverty. Typical homes consist of sticks thatched with mud, and have dirt floors. A few of the more fortunate residents live in rough cement block structures with concrete floors.

The village has a medical clinic- of sorts. One day each week, a doctor or nurse might visit this dark, dreary, and ill-equipped little building to give what aid they can. It is not enough.

The school house for grades 1 through 6 is a little wooden shack with a tin roof, dirt floor and a few ramshackle desks.
Water is supplied to the village via a pipe that dips into an open stream higher up on the mountain.

The Village of Zinacantan
Another of the municipalities identified by the University is Zinacantan. The team evaluated this municipality also and found similar issues and problems with health care.

The indigenous women here weave beautiful cloth on handmade looms, while the men work in greenhouses growing flowers for export. When the team stopped to look at some of the material, the shop-keeper invited them into her home behind the shop for a light meal. Tortillas are cooked on an open fire inside the block structure.

After a few minutes of making friends around the table, Dr. Rick was able to interview Maria, the matriarch of the house. She told us about the troubles the local women face when delivering a baby. All available help is comprised of local midwives. If there is any complication, such as a breach presentation, they are in serious trouble. Dr. Rick asked if the local residents would take advantage of free health education programs in the evenings if they were made available. Maria said the people would love that.

Maria told us that they get all their water directly from the local river. They boil any used for drinking. After we explained the concept of a simple and inexpensive water filtration system that they might build themselves and possibly develop a cottage industry, Maria was positive, but she explained any such program would need to be promoted through the town leadership, so that the people would know that they could trust it.

Maria then told us how she used to work very hard, but now cannot do much because she has been sick. She has had problems with her stomach and her eyes. She has pain in her lower abdomen and burning and itching sensations on her legs. She went to see the doctor and he told her he thought it was cancer.  He diagnosed it after an ultrasound and urine test. Carol Olson asked if she had any blood testing done – she had not.

Maria has also had a hysterectomy, where they removed a tumor. After which she has not felt any better. She now takes some medications for the pain.  She said that the medicines cost more than she can afford.
Maria’s story just might have a happy ending. The day after we left Zinacantan, Maggie Salgado reported to us that she had located a gynecologist in Tuxtla who had agreed to take Maria as patient without charge. However, we came away with the strong impression that this is just one of many such stories to be found among the mountain villages of Chiapas.

A Partnering Agreement
Back in the capitol, we signed a letter of understanding with the University. President Estrada and others were enthusiastic about the possibility of partnering with us.

What’s Next?
We returned home from this trip with a renewed energy and with a clear vision for how we can help the poor people of Chiapas. We now feel ready to begin pursuing funding for the first mobile medical clinic, and for the development of telemedicine capabilities.  Stay tuned!






Contact Information

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The Santo Domingo village clinic in Chiapas

  "Trabajando unidos para lograr salud integral para los pueblos de America Latina"