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Community Health Promoters in Mexico
During a trip to my hometown of Zacatecas, Mexico, I spoke with volunteer health promoters at Mexfam who are making critical changes in their communities. Many of the areas where the health promoters live are plagued by high rates of poverty due to the lack of job opportunities and unpredictable droughts that disrupt the harvest. According to the National Council for the Evaluation of Policy and Social Development, Zacatecas is one of the ten poorest areas of the country. Mexfam tries to meet the health needs of these vulnerable communities by enlisting the help of health promoters.
The health promoters provide sexual and reproductive health information and basic services like first aid, contraceptives, and prenatal care. They educate their communities by holding discussions on topics like sexual rights, pregnancy prevention, and gender-based violence. The Ministry of Health has recognized the positive impact Mexfam's health promoters are making in the country.
“People in my community have changed their perceptions about sexual and reproductive health," said Aurora Amador, a health promoter in Zacatecas. "I've focused on working with older men to change their machista way of thinking about gynecology. Even women come to adopt this mentality, so I speak with men and women to make them see that gynecological services can save women’s lives.”
Aurora also works with young people to reduce the high rates of adolescent pregnancy in her community. “One case that really affected me was a 13-year-old girl who got pregnant. It was something that could have been avoided," she said.
"Mexfam promotes pregnancy prevention through comprehensive sexuality education, but in this case, I think the best option would have been to provide her with emergency contraception," Aurora explained. "The little girl didn’t have any support from the baby’s father, and her family is very poor.”
Maria del Consuelo Escareño, a health promoter in San Ramon, told me why she volunteers her time with Mexfam. “It's satisfying to be able to help women in my community. I give them information and encourage them to go to Mexfam’s health center for cervical cancer screenings.”
Maria del Consuelo and Aurora make arrangements to transport groups of people who live in remote areas to Mexfam clinics to receive more comprehensive health services. One client, Doña Maria, told me she is grateful for the work the health promoters are doing because there are no doctors in her community. “The health promoter gives me information and family planning services. When I was younger, I didn’t know these methods existed. I had the first of my thirteen children at nineteen years old.”
The community health promoters have to overcome many obstacles to effectively do their work. Some of the challenges include a lack of public infrastructure and sufficient resources, but they must also face the insecurity that affects most of the country. Some health promoters put their own lives at risk in order to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in Mexico. Despite these trying circumstances, they continue to provide high-quality services because they care so deeply about the health of their communities.