Providing Health Care for Native Communities in Mexico

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I'm Faith Lapidus.  And I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.  Today we tell about an organization that is helping provide health care for native communities in Mexico.

Lack of good health care is an issue in many areas of the world.  In industrial countries, the biggest problem is the cost of health care.

The issue is far more serious in developing areas of the world, especially for native groups.  The indigenous people are usually among the poorest.  They often live in mountains or areas far from the center of cities where most doctors and hospitals are found.

For centuries, indigenous groups provided their own health care.  They had their own doctors who were called healers, curanderos, or medicine women or men.  They knew which plants growing in the area could be used to treat different sicknesses.  The old healers taught their unwritten medical knowledge to chosen young people who went through a difficult training.

In recent years, many young people have moved to cities to find jobs.  Others who remained in the villages were not interested in learning plant medicine and natural medical treatments.  Through the years the old healers and traditional medicine experts died.  Their knowledge died with them.

International groups such as the World Health Organization recognize that indigenous groups throughout the world lack good health care.  The director-general of the W.H.O. spoke about the problem on the International Day of the World's Indigenous People in two thousand four.  He said governments should recognize the right of indigenous people to good health.  He called for nations to provide for indigenous health needs while honoring traditional healing methods and knowledge.

An organization in Oaxaca, Mexico, is helping indigenous groups learn to provide for their own health care.  Oaxaca is one of thirty-two Mexican states.  Oaxaca is also the name of the capital city.  Indigenous groups in Oaxaca state speak sixteen different languages.  Many indigenous villages are very far from any doctors or hospitals.

In nineteen ninety-one, Roman Catholic Archbishop Bartolome Carrasco Briceno began a campaign to improve health care for the poor in Oaxaca.  He wanted indigenous people to re-learn the use of natural medicines. Doctors were brought into Oaxaca to teach many of the natural medical techniques used by indigenous cultures for centuries.

When the doctors left, an organization, PROSA, was created to continue the teaching of natural medicine.  PROSA means Promoters of Health in Defense of the Life of the Community.

Isabelle Harmon has been working with PROSA since she arrived in Oaxaca in nineteen ninety-three.  She is a nurse and a member of the Medical Mission Sisters, a Roman Catholic organization that provides health care for people in developing countries.

Sister Isabelle helps teach poor families how to make their own medicines from locally grown plants.  She says the goal is to have indigenous people use their own traditional herbal medicines to provide for their own health.  She helped PROSA produce a book, "Medicinal Plants", in both English and Spanish.  It includes drawings of medicinal plants found in Oaxaca with an explanation of how to use them.

Magda Pittaro is a Medical Mission Sister from Italy.  She has been in Oaxaca for several years helping PROSA by doing massages that ease tension in the muscles of the body.  Mary Hicken is with Maryknoll Mission. She helps PROSA find financial support.

Three indigenous women from the Oaxaca area now are officers of PROSA.  Veronica Estaban is president.  Soledad Rendon is coordinator and Lurdes Rendon is treasurer.  They are experts in natural healing methods.  They prepare the herbal medicines sold in the PROSA office.  And they travel to distant villages to help train community representatives as health promoters.

PROSA has an office in Oaxaca city. It includes a room where natural medicines are made and kept and some small rooms for treatments.  PROSA is in a building that has offices for other groups that provide services for poor and indigenous Mexicans.

Two days a week, PROSA helps people who have made the long trip to Oaxaca city to seek treatment for a health problem.  First, the patient is examined.  The PROSA experts do one of several tests to find out what is wrong.  One test is called the O-ring test.  It tests the energy coming from organs and other parts of the body to find problems.  Once the health problem is discovered, it may be treated in several different ways.

A common treatment is natural medicine.  Dried herbs are crushed and put in dark bottles with water and alcohol for a month to make tinctures.  Different tinctures are mixed to make another kind of medicine called a microdose.  The dried herbs are also sold to make teas to drink.  People can buy the medicines for a small amount of money or, if they have no money, they may pay with herbs they have grown.

People may be treated in several other ways.  One is called Cerebral Thermal Regulation.  Patients are given small pieces of copper metal to wear on their wrists and feet to re-balance energy in the body.  Or they may be treated by Alejo Pinacho Remirez with a kind of acupuncture that involves only the ear.  He does ear pressure point treatments.

PROSA health educators visit between twelve and fifteen villages each year.  They teach a series of workshops about ways to treat sicknesses caused by different kinds of environmental or physical problems.  The women and men who complete the workshops are called health promoters.  They are expected to teach others in their villages. Since nineteen ninety-one, PROSA has trained more than five hundred people in about two hundred communities.

The series of five workshops deal with:  Sicknesses caused by lack of pure water and waste treatment.  Lack of warm clothing and safe housing.  Poor working conditions and tension.  Problems of female and male reproduction systems.  And  sicknesses caused by lack of food and an unbalanced diet.

Late one afternoon, seven women leave their work in their fields and homes and gather in a covered area outside a home in a small farming village.  PROSA educators have arrived from Oaxaca to teach another in the series of workshops about sicknesses caused by poor working conditions and tension.

The women listen carefully as Soledad Rendon explains about nerve problems and a natural medicine to treat these problems.  They write down the kinds and amounts of substances to be used in the tonic and when and how it should be used.

Then the women help prepare a mixture of dried plants, fresh grains and vegetables to be boiled in water.  After boiling, the solid material is removed and the liquid is mixed with alcohol.

PROSA holds two workshops a year in the city of Oaxaca for trained health promoters.  The women and men share experiences in their villages and continue to learn about ways to prevent as well as treat sicknesses.

In the spring of two thousand five, thirty people gathered in a large room in a church in Oaxaca.  Some of the people had traveled for many hours to get to the three-day meeting.  They talked about their successes and problems as health promoters in their villages.  They watched videos about pollution.  They learned about natural ways to kill harmful insects so the earth is not poisoned by chemicals.

A university professor talked about the problems caused by corn that has been genetically changed.  This transgenic corn is replacing the many kinds of native corn grown in Mexico for centuries.  The director of an organization for organic farming explained that transgenic corn does not provide the nutrients that people need.  And, she said, the seeds have to be bought each year.  This means many poor farmers cannot continue to grow corn so they have to sell their land.

The workshop in Oaxaca ended with a ceremony.  PROSA educators and health promoters joined hands.  They promised to continue working together to improve their health, the health of their communities, and the health of their land.

This program was written by Marilyn Christiano and produced by Mario Ritter. There is more information about PROSA treatments in the article "Integrative Medicine in Mexico."  It was printed in the publication "Alternative and Complementary Therapies" in August, two thousand two. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus.  Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

Source: Providing Health Care for Native Communities in Mexico
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