Building for the Future
The central clinic is a hub of activity with patients and community health workers coming and going. As soon as one need is met, the next presents itself. Patients are cared for in regularly scheduled clinic hours four days a week. The CHWs offer diagnosis and treatment for acute illnesses as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. These services fill an enormous need, as the next closest source of diabetic care is a 4-hour drive away.
Midwives and CHWs work together to provide high quality prenatal care, and screening for gynecological cancer is affordable and accessible. Dental care, including cleaning, fillings and extractions, is also available. Emergencies come in at all hours and the CHWs are committed to helping their fellow villagers whenever needed. The central clinic also serves as a teaching and referral center. Health-workers-in-training do shifts in this clinic, under supervision of advanced CHWs and visiting medical professionals. In this way, they gain experience so they can go back to their communities and provide similar service. The clinic is also a reliable place for CHWs to send patients whose medical needs are more than what can be taken care of in the community. Patients can rely on encountering an experienced, empathetic health worker who understands first-hand the challenges of subsistence farmworkers in Petén.
The central clinic has operated out of three different locations over the past 15 years. The dream of the team of community health workers is to have a place to call their own. A major goal of Petén Health is to help make this dream a reality with the purchase of an ample site and the construction of a clinic, a teaching facility, and basic dormitories.
Teaching and Telemedicine
The training program for a community health worker is three years long. The CHWs travel in from their distant villages to attend week-long courses every 2 months.
The topics have been honed over the years to quickly provide the CHWs with skills that can be life-saving in the communities, such as how to treat deadly intestinal and respiratory illnesses. Other topics include nutrition, chronic diseases, first aid for emergencies, laceration repair, and childbirth.
While the courses are as practical as possible, nothing can replace real experience. Between courses, the students come to the central teaching clinic to practice what they’ve learned under the supervision of advanced CHWs and visiting medical professionals.
Several international physicians and advanced healthcare workers make regular trips to the area to conduct courses, provide consults on difficult cases and generally assist the community healthcare workers. Thanks to new cell towers, we now are able to stay in day-to-day contact via telephone, texting, email and video conferencing. This enables the health workers to get professional consultation on complex cases.
The community health workers (CHW) see patients in their homes, in small community clinics, and in the program’s central hub in the town of El Naranjo. The goal of Petén Health and the local team of CHWs is to have health care available to people where they live. Many CHWs have built small clinic rooms on to their own houses and communities have come together to construct small clinics where patients can be cared for.
A team of advanced community health workers also travels out to the villages on a regular basis to work with the students. These visits provide much-needed medical care locally and also help villagers begin to identify the student CHW as a local resource for medical care in the community.