A view from remote Capayqui, Bolivia.
By Julia Kayser*
August 10, 2012—Since 2002, Elisa Quiroga has worked tirelessly in the Cotani Methodist clinic in central Bolivia, near Cochabamba. Elisa’s approach of community-based primary health care addresses both the symptoms and the causes of common health concerns, such as diarrhea or difficult childbirth. She not only treats people but also educates them about how to stay healthy. The Cotani community has grown in its capacity to identify and address its own health problems.
For example, despite some pushback in the community, Elisa has made great progress in family planning. Her secret? She started a soccer team for young women. “Whenever they got a break,” she says, “I would get all the women on my team together and start talking about family planning.” She asked the women to consider the difference between a family with three kids and a family with eight kids. Which children got better nutrition? Which stayed in school longer?
In response, the young women prepared for their community a play illustrating the improvements in quality of life that family planning can achieve. “The churches that wanted nothing to do with family planning have the families that come [most often] for advice,” Elisa says. Today, she’s happy to report that the annual birth rate in the village has dropped from 30 – 40 to 5 – 10 since her arrival in Cotani ten years ago.
The child mortality rate has been dramatically reduced and the community is now in better economic standing.
UMCOR is pleased to partner with churches like the Methodist Church of Bolivia, to provide care and health education to communities that otherwise might not receive them in culturally relevant and contextualized ways. Mission Interpreter Rev. David Stephenson, of the Bolivia & Oklahoma Methodist Partnership, lifted up this program to UMCOR for support. He explains that the Methodist Church of Bolivia tries to use its resources “out ahead of the government,” providing clinics to those who otherwise would not have access. This often means pushing to the very edge of infrastructural possibility.
Getting to the village of Capayqui, for example, is no small feat. The paved road ends in Achacachi, on Bolivia’s eastern border. From there, travelers must endure a five-hour drive on a dirt road that winds up into the mountains. The view from the end of this road takes in a few scattered brick houses and one Methodist church, against a stunning background of the Andes. A little more than 1,000 people make their home here in Capayqui and the surrounding villages.
Capayqui’s inhabitants used to live in fear of illness and injury, which were as good as death sentences to the old and the young, because the closest medical clinic was a four-hour walk away, in Timusi. Childbirth was also a huge risk that claimed lives each year, because Capayqui didn’t have a midwife.
The citizens of Capayqui had heard of Methodist clinics in other Bolivian villages, so in September 2011, they invited the Methodist Church to partner with them in opening a clinic in their community. They donated two small rooms and the labor to improve them with cement floors and a new latrine. In return, Methodists have donated materials and provided a community nurse to attend them.
Capayqui—the town at the end of the road—now benefits from community-based primary health care.
Your donation to Health Systems Strengthening, UMCOR Advance #982168, helps support nurses like Elisa Quiroga and local community clinics like the one in Capayqui.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and regular contributor to www.umcor.org.