Chagas is a disease of poverty and most often afflicts populations like the one served by Centro Medico. Chagas is a chronic disease that commonly causes heart and gastrointestinal problems which are often further complicated by other health conditions.
Over half the population served by Centro Medico has tested positive for Chagas.
Many of the clinic's families are at risk of contracting chagas because the "venchuca," the insect that carries the parasite that causes Chagas, lives in the thatched roofs and in the cracks of the earthen walls commonly found in the homes of Centro Medico's families.
Centro Medico's Chagas Project works to prevent the spread of Chagas through education. The program emphasizes sleeping in an area enclosed by mosquito nets and building future homes with materials that are inhospitable to the venchuca. The clinic also distributes mosquito nets to families in need. Centro Medico Founder Susan Hou dreams of one day implementing the Three Little Pigs Project which would rebuild community homes to further prevent the spread of Chagas.
Centro Medico makes sure that its patients are taken care of. As a result, Centro Medico frequently arranges and pays for patient surgeries performed in the city of Santa Cruz. We're now hoping to take care of patients at our own surgery center.
Hopefully by 2009 we'll be performing minor surgery at no cost! Plans for the surgery center also include a new residence which will house visiting surgical teams. The surgery center will house two operating rooms and a large recovery area which will accommodate patients staying the night.
Centro Medico Directors have been meeting with Rama and Pat Jagar, who are helping make this amazing and significant addition possible. Ground breaking is planned for 2008!
Diabetes and hypertension are foremost health concerns in Bolivia, particularly in the department of Santa Cruz where Centro Medico is located. A striking 11% of the local population has diabetes compared to 5% of the population in US. 22% of the local population have high blood pressure. Centro Medico is trying to address this problem through our Diabetes and Hypertension Chronic Care Program.
Diabetes and hypertension are serious, chronic diseases that need constant maintenance. Poorly managed diabetes can lead to strokes, blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, foot amputations and nerve damage. Untreated hypertension puts patients at risk for heart attacks, strokes, and atherosclerosis.
Unfortunately, many of the local villagers do not manage their diabetes or hypertension on a consistent and long-term basis. Villagers have undergone foot amputations, lost their sight and suffered heart attacks and strokes. Due to extreme poverty, poor diet and lack of health education, the morbidity of diabetes and hypertension among the local rural population is increasing. Families commonly live at a subsistence level with an average income of around $40 per month, and the typical diet consists of low-cost foods that are energy-dense but nutrient-poor. In addition, many patients suffering from diabetes or hypertension know little about their diseases and often believe that they can be cured with a single trip to the doctor or dose of medicine. As clinic founder, Dr. Susan Hou, says, 'We have found that people don't understand what it means to have a chronic disease. They tend to have very short-term concerns that make it difficult to think long-term.'
To address the growing prevalence of diabetes and hypertension and the resulting medical complications, Centro Medico implemented the Diabetes and Hypertension Chronic Care Program Pilot Program in July 2005. Now, three of the twelve Centro Medico communities have community-based support groups that emphasize self-monitoring of blood glucose and pressure, a healthy lifestyle, adherence to medication when applicable, and provide professional and peer support to participants.
The program has been very successful in improving health and is currently expanding to other local communities.
One of Centro Medico's founding principles is to protect the environment and operate in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Centro Medico is now looking into installing solar panels. In fall 2007, an alternative energy consultant, Derek Supple, volunteered to help make solar energy a reality at the clinic. He worked to develop a water distiller, and helped our architect Angela develop plans to integrate solar energy. Derek is now back in Chicago, but his legacy will continue.
Cervical cancer is a major concern in Bolivia and all over the world. It is the second most common cancer among women worldwide and strikes more than 490,000 women each year. Women in developing countries are disproportionately affected; more than 80% of deaths due to cervical cancer occur among women in developing nations.
Bolivia has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the world.
Centro Medico is working toward implementing a cervical cancer prevention program. Ultimately, the program would coordinate and provide regular cervical cancer screenings and other preventive measures, educate on prevention and help provide treatment options for those with cervical cancer.
Clinic volunteers are currently researching cervical cancer prevention options and investigating available resources from nearby healthcare facilities and the local government.
Much of parasite prevention is relatively simple and straightforward. It requires taking one dose of anti-parasite medication (albendazole) once every six months. Parents routinely come to the clinic with their children and list off the symptoms of stomach parasites, better known as "bichos." Our doctor then administer the anti-parasite medication.
Gretchen Myers, our US volunteer nurse, with some help from a local hospital and health education center, is in the process of implementing a prevention program aiming to curb the number of kids with parasites. Gretchen is going to local schools to educate students on parasite prevention. Sometimes doctors and nurses from the Buena Vista public hospital accompany her. Gretchen is also working on a way to get this important prevention information and treatment to youth who are not in school.