Casas de salud (Health Houses)
Access to health care is very limited in rural Guatemala. Most families cannot afford to pay to see a doctor or buy medicine. There are no public doctors in the Escuela de la Montaña area, and the government funded health centers (staffed by one or two nurses) are overstretched and frequently run out of medicine. Public healthcare is grossly underfunded. In the 2014 budget, proposed spending for health care is half the amount spent on repaying debt and is less than planned spending on roads, a situation which is very similar to previous years.
Presupuesto sube 5.3% para el 2014 (Prensa Libre, 31/08/2013). http://test.prensalibre.com/noticias/Presupuesto-sube_0_984501570.html
Because of this, the Dispensario Santo Hermano Pedro, a clinic run by the local Catholic Church working with many local communities, started a project to train local people from each community as health technicians (health promoters) and help communities set up and run, (health houses or community run micro-clinics). Both Nuevo San José and Fátima have casas de salud which sell very low cost generic medicine to community members and are staffed by community health technicians (health promoters) who can provide basic health care & medical advice and prescribe medicines for common illnesses and give first aid where needed. Health technicians also give informative talks about how to prevent common illnesses and adequate nutrition for the families. (photo) Over 20 communities in the area have these health houses. They are popular with community members, because the medical attention & advice is given freely, the medicine is cheaper than in Colomba and people don't have to go far to buy it.
The health technicians began their training in around 2006, and the casas de salud opened in 2008. At first, many of the health houses didn't have their own building. The casa de salud in Nuevo San José was based in a classroom in the primary school, which meant that there was no separate room for carrying out examinations. The clinic in Fátima was located in a community member's house, which was being rented out to the community. It was not the most appropriate place for a clinic. Fortunately, the Dispensario managed to get funding to construct purpose made buildings, with a waiting room, examination room, kitchen, pharmacy and a storage room for the medicine.
Both PLQ and the Escuela de la Montaña have donated money to help this community project. PLQ and the Escuela de la Montaña donated food staples to help the families when they worked building the health houses (each family took turns to help with the building process but that meant sacrificing a day's paid labour, which is hard for families who live hand to mouth). When the funding ran out for Fátima's health house, PLQ bought glass for the windows and cement to plaster the walls for their casa de salud. PLQ also donated money to help both Fátima and Nuevo San José get doors for their casas de salud. (see photos of opening ceremonies). Also, some of the health technicians received scholarships to finish middle school (in 2009 and 2010) and in 2011 three health technicians received scholarship money to become auxiliary nurses.
The health houses and other health projects run by the Dispensario were being funded by a Dutch NGO, until 2012. Sadly the funding ran out and was not renewed. From 2005-2012 the Dispensario provided a doctor in the clinic and has been running several programs since 2006 in over 20 communities of the Boca Costa to help them care for their own health, to combat malnutrition and to support them in their struggle for community development, so that they can learn how to apply for funding for and run community projects that meet vital community needs such as access to water, electricity, primary schools. These projects have had to be cut back due to lack of funds. The Dispensario is currently looking for funds to help keep these vital projects going.