In January 2010, Keri Baker, R.N. and two other volunteers created the health branch of local NGO Awamaki to help meet the health needs of the Ollantaytambo District. The initial program included clinical placements, serving nutritious drinks to patients waiting to be seen in the government clinic, and conducting public health classes. Over the course of two years, the program expanded to encompass a disabilities campaign and fluoride campaigns.
In June 2011 Keri led the first of many nursing service trips in the District. The nurses visited a remote mountain village, and Keri was approached by a community member to see a young woman too sick to leave her home. The woman had visited the government clinic one month prior for a bladder infection and had received treatment. However, the clinic staff had not educated her about her medication’s side effects and thus she stopped treatment when side effects appeared. Her infection worsened until she was unable to walk without pain. Although her village is accessible by road, she was unable to afford transportation and a second doctor visit. Keri accompanied her and funded a visit to another local clinic. Lab tests revealed giardia, bacterial vaginosis, and a severe bladder infection. This experience illuminated the need for increased access to effective and affordable health care in the region. Further discussions with remote villagers confirmed the need for onsite care and Keri was inspired to create a mobile health clinic.
Keri recruited Mark Willcox, M.D., a long-term volunteer internal medicine physician, and together they founded a monthly mobile clinic in September 2011. The clinic was so popular that the municipal government started its own mobile clinic, which began visiting communities in March 2012. At this time – together with Sarah FitzGerald and Emily Groves – Willcox and Baker transitioned SVH out to focus on building its community health worker (promotora de salud) program, which complements rather than competes with the government’s efforts. As we assessed the successes and failures of the mobile clinic, we realized that medication and referral compliance rates were suboptimal. In consultation with several reputable community health worker training programs, we began to design a community health worker program specific for this region. Our goals include early recognition and triage of severe diseases, improved follow-up, medication, and referral compliance, and community empowerment to address systemic health problems like hygiene and sanitation. We intend for the community health workers to be advocates for change in their communities. We partner with other NGOs and are establishing partnerships with government agencies and the Ministry of Health to achieve these goals.