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Nombre de Jesus, Chalatenango, El Salvador

On November 1, 2008 the community of Nombre de Jesus, located in the north region of Chalatenango, El Salvador received a brigade of volunteers from Canada consisting of members of the Canadian Salvadoran Association (ASALCA) and members of the Short Term International Mission Abroad (STIMMA). These two non-profit organizations aimed to address short term health issues in the communities surrounding the municipality of Nombre de Jesus, Chalatenango, in northern El Salvador.

Local demographic information includes:
• Population base: 192 801 people
• Average family: 4.9 children per woman
• Child mortality rate: 40.7 per every thousand
• Average wage:  US$3.00-$5.00/day
• Occupation: farm workers/laborers
The brigade provided health services to more than 1200 patients from the following communities that make up the municipality of Nombre de Jesus:

-Canton Potrerillos
-Canton Las Plazuelas
-Canton los Escalantes
-Canton Tipuri
-Canton Patamera
-Canton Amatillo
-Canton Los Henriquez
-Hacienda Vieja
-El Bajillo
-Canton Quipure
-Chorrera El Guayabo
-Campamento No.2,
-San Antonio La Cruz
-San Francisco Labrador

People traveled from far away places such as San Simon, Los Hernandez and La Virtud in Honduras to take advantage of our services.

This it is the second year that ASALCA and STIMMA coordinated efforts with municipal and health authorities in northern Chalatenango to provide short term medical services to rural communities that are lacking medical supplies and have inadequate medical services for their inhabitants.  It was also an opportunity for the team to learn from the Salvadoran communities in their own environment, their culture, language and most importantly how the communities have survived and adapted after a civil war.
The health care and support was provided for children, women and men of all ages.  We also offered guidance and CPR lessons for young families, seniors and people with various disabilities and ailments.

The 23 person brigade was composed of health services professionals, educators and translators.  The brigade promoted health services, prevention and treatments for different diseases. These services were provided without cost to the population who benefited from the following:
1) Registration and runners- These group of teachers and community workers coordinated groups of people and made sure that everything was in order for the next clinic area.

2) Educational session focused in the care of patients with diabetes, ulcers and arterial pressure.  Demonstrations were conducted on how to do personal examinations to detect breast and testicular cancer and signs of prostate cancer.  Discussions were held relative to parasite treatment, the benefits of vitamins, etc.  to help reinforce healthy habits and preventative measures to ensure the promotion of good heath.  Medical consultations were held that dealt with and provided medication for specific diseases for individual patients.

3) Eye Glasses. Eye examinations were given and more than three hundred pairs of glasses were distributed to people who required them. 

4) Pharmacy. Free medication was offered to all the patients provided with prescription from the doctors and nurses.

5) All registered visitors to our clinic went through a triage process, whereby the nurses interview each person and determine the individual need. In one day alone ten diabetics were diagnosed. Sometimes people were requesting vitamins, parasite medication, eye glasses, sun protection, like hats, etc.  Depending on the need for each case, the nurses referred them to the various stations where they could receive the attention they required.

6) All other problems were referred to the doctor for a medical interview. He assessed each referred patient individually. He recommended intervention and treatment, as well as medicine and drugs or ointments that required a doctor’s prescription. He sometimes recommended further referral to a specialist or requested them to return to the clinic later time for follow-up assessment.

7) The director of the Clinic, Doctor Rafael Sanchez Escalante, was in charge to supervise the work of the brigade and to provide consultant's office on the social conditions of the population.

8) A group of seven devoted and well trained cultural translators accompanied the team of nurses, doctors during their long working hours. Their ability to speak Spanish and English helped identify the needs of those who came to the clinic looking for assistance.

9) The clinic included space for appointments and meetings. It was an ideal location to serve the community.

10) Logistics and security: There is a lot of work done prior to the arrival of the brigade and during its’ stay in El Salvador. Long before the brigade departs for our destination, a search of the area that we are planning to set up clinic is conducted and a long list of questions and discussions relating to needs of the people, etc. are produced by the medical team. Preparation is required in advance for our team as it relates to needs for housing, food, deadlines for import and work permits, transportation, a place to rest on a weekend, available translators, and mobility within the country, security issues, and geographic data. Strategic planning is required at many different levels, social, government, etc. in order to coordinate a successful mission.

The team imported over two thousand pounds of medical supplies to El Salvador for which all the required permits were issued.  Arcatao, Chalatenango City, Nombre de Jesus, Suchitoto and their surrounding communities were the beneficiaries of all imported medical and hospital supplies.

Our objective was to educate the people of El Salvador with important skills that translate directly to their health and well being.  In addition, the team was also able to assess individual patients and provide the appropriate care and referrals.
We emphasized the importance of brushing teeth, hand washing, and nutrition. 

Most of the population of El Salvador can not cover the high cost of medical services and medicines. Infantile mortality is eight times higher than any region in North America and as much as 60% in the rural population. Heath care plans are not available in El Salvador for the majority of the population and with the average daily wage at US$3.00 - US$5.00 it is not affordable.  Simple, treatable diseases such as diarrhea, colds, flu and other common respiratory infections result in the death of smaller children under the age of five years old.


The brigade was valuable because it addressed a basic human need by helping the communities understand the importance of preventative health.  We experienced the overwhelming relief that the general population felt when they were able to obtain proper medical attention and free medication and guidance.  

The civil war of the 1980’s is a part of El Salvador’s history it has caused in many areas of the country, people to be devastatingly poor, lack of health care , education and other social services.

The presence of the Canadian medical brigade also brought secondary benefits to the community during our two weeks in Nombre de Jesus, small retailers of the population supplied food, transportation and lodging  to us and to the patients who visited the clinic during our stay.

It is not possible to speak about health care in the Nombre de Jesus without alluding to the threat of the Canadian mining operations in the area that has caused serious consequences to the public health of the inhabitants of the region. Mayor Guillermo Rodriguez stressed in his welcoming speech that “this was the second time that Canadian citizens, arrived in the area, without instruments to measure soil and money to buy lands from their inhabitants. Land, that destine to mineral exploration and exploitation”.

“We would rather have the form of relation and shared of common goals between our two countries, promoted by STIMMA and ASALCA, where we are building a bridge of goodwill and benefits that connect a part of Canada and Nombre de Jesus in El Salvador. This is the form of relation we rather have to be able to prevail in this globalize world.”

Basically what we understood from Mr. Rodriquez statements was that he welcomed to have our brigade come to the region to help them rather than Transnational companies that just come and set up their own business with no regard for the people or the environment.

The medical brigade returned to Canada on Sunday, November 16th but their members plan to return in a year to be able to continue the work already established in the region.

We are grateful for the financial support from TriCities Radio Station 91.5 The Beat, Back to Health, Canadian Friends Service Committee and all anonymous individuals and corporations that made the 2008 Health Brigade a success…


November 2008


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