Bringing Health and Love to Guatemala

By Aimee Khuu, Senior Director for International Programs, Providence Health & Services

Over the past three years, Providence St. Joseph Health (PSJH) Global Partnerships and Medical Teams International have set out to improve health outcomes in Chicaman, El Quiche—a rural municipality in the highlands of Guatemala. We are continuing international outreach efforts started by the Sisters of Providence 160 years ago when they journeyed to Vancouver, Washington from Montreal.

Today, our health care experts throughout the organization have much to share with our global community and it is a natural partnership to work with Medical Teams International (Medical Teams), a leader in global health. Pursuing a multi-year strategic plan, our organizations have been able to focus on improving key health indicators through Medical Teams’ Maternal and Child Health Program.

Volunteer coordinator, Romeo Lem, demonstrates for a family how to use their ventilated stove. (Mat Johnson for Providence St. Joseph Health).

Volunteer coordinator, Romeo Lem, demonstrates for a family how to use their ventilated stove. (Mat Johnson for Providence St. Joseph Health).

The Maternal and Child Health program focuses on measurable health impact to both reduce the incidence of respiratory illness, diarrhea and malnutrition as well as to strengthen the local health care system. Medical Teams manages the in-country programs that include home health infrastructure — ventilated stoves, sanitary latrines, hand-washing stations and clean water — and also invests in health education for local community members and clinicians. We join them in the planning, financial investment, subject matter expertise, volunteerism and ongoing evaluation.

The partnership has proven extraordinarily successful in its ability to drive clear health impact with a reduction in the rate of pneumonia in children under two years from 25 to 8 percent, and a reduction in the rate of diarrhea in children in that same age group from 41 to 23.7 percent. Not only that, there has been strong engagement and development of local community leadership. Over 200 women participate as community health leaders and educate their community and families on important health issues.

As Carrie Schonwald, manager of clinical exchanges with PSJH, describes, “The unique and beautiful aspect of these training experiences is that it provides the opportunities for clinicians from quite different contexts to learn from one another. The Guatemalan clinicians are experienced, knowledgeable and passionate. What Providence caregivers are able to provide is a method of teaching the latest knowledge and techniques in maternal and child health.”  The goal is for the Guatemalan clinicians who have received the training to replicate the same modules with 100 staff and faculty members.

Medical Teams International community health educator, Nelida Cal (right) with a community member. (Mat Johnson for Providence St. Joseph Health).

Medical Teams International community health educator, Nelida Cal (right) with a community member. (Mat Johnson for Providence St. Joseph Health).

This year, we launched an additional component of the Chicamán program focused on strengthening the clinical and operational capacity of health facilities in the region. The program is designed as a “training of trainers.” We send volunteer teams with clinical expertise to meet locally-identified training needs. Medical Teams expertly provides curriculum and logistical support. Providence caregivers deliver the workshops to Guatemalan clinicians over the course of five days. Our caregivers share their expertise with local nurses and doctors, who then provide the same trainings to their clinical staff.

This work is also powerful as a formative experience for our caregivers. “Over time, we believe this sacred work will lead to greater organizational formation and a culture of compassionate global citizens,” says Joel Gilbertson, SVP for community partnerships with PSJH.

Over 900 caregivers have traveled internationally through our programs and the experiences have transformative impact in their roles as caregivers, as well as how they think about global issues and their greater community.

This partnership is truly a life-giving and powerful component to the work of our organization. Together with Medical Teams International, we have found the perfect partnership in our global health programming.

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