Friendship Bridge - Salud para la Vida

 

Doña Maria was sure she was dying. She had just been diagnosed with cervical cancer and she was leaving six living children behind. “Since I knew I was dying there was no reason to seek treatment,” said Doña Maria. “I felt extremely sad.”

This reaction is not unusual in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Misconceptions and lack of education about health care, as well as limited access to culturally appropriate services, result in high rates of preventable diseases, including cervical cancer. That’s why Friendship Bridge created the Health for Life program to specifically address the preventive healthcare challenges that rural, indigenous women face in Guatemala.

Through our partner Wuqu’ Kawoq (Maya Health Alliance), Friendship Bridge provides health education and services to clients by women nurses who are from the local communities and speak the clients’ indigenous languages. The program also provides mobile clinics that travel to the clients’ communities.

Rebecca, Doña Maria’s nurse, visited Doña Maria often to help her understand treatment options. “What you have has a solution,” said Rebecca to Doña Maria. “I’ll travel with you. I’ll support you.  We’re in this together.”

Initially, Doña Maria’s husband was suspicious asking her where she had contracted such a sickness. After understanding that lack of medical care during and after her nine home births could have caused her cancer, he supported her treatment. 

“Rebecca is not my daughter, but she is my life-giving angel,” said Doña Maria. For four months they traveled together to the capital for treatment and later an operation. “I’m so grateful to Nurse Rebecca, my Facilitator Gloria, and the support they gave me,” said Doña Maria. “They always told me, ‘We fight together, and we’ll win together.’ Now I’m here talking about my victory. I want other women to hear my story. It could save their lives. It’s our job to make the decision to defeat sickness; if I can do it, another woman can do it too.”

Today, Doña Maria continues to build her business making and selling tortillas. Supported by Friendship Bridge, she also helps her children continue their education.

Program

Access to affordable, reliable, and culturally sensitive healthcare has been a major obstacle for the women Friendship Bridge serves. These women are primarily indigenous and live in rural regions where the rate of poverty is the highest in Guatemala. Some of the common health complications that these women face are preventable diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and cervical cancer. Misconceptions about health and lack of access to services result in high rates of these diseases. The Salud para la Vida (Health for Life) program, which began in 2015, is designed to specifically counter these healthcare challenges and fill gaps in services that these women face.

The Salud para la Vida program is delivered in partnership with Wuqu’ Kawoq, Maya Health Alliance, a local health organization. Culturally sensitive services are provided via mobile clinics that travel to the villages where the clients live. Female medical professionals who are fluent in the indigenous languages the clients speak staff each clinic. 

With the introduction of health services to the Quiché branch and the ongoing service delivery in Sololá and Chimaltenango, the total number of women that have attended a mobile clinic in 2017 was 1,623. Friendship Bridge has found that participation in a Plus service positively benefits not only the client but an average of six others in the community, including spouses, children, parents and employees. This indicates that 9,738 people have benefited from the Salud para la Vida program in 2017.