On Saturday, January 5, numerous friends and partners converged on La Antigua, Guatemala, including members of the UIUC Engineers without Borders, physicians from the Carle Clinic Association, and members of the Sylvan Lake Rotary Club. The purposes for this meeting were numerous, but included exploration of partnership opportunities with the Rotary; kickoff of the engineering component of our water and sanitation project in Socorro, San Pablo Jocopilas; and running of a subspecialty clinic in collaboration with our midwifery partner ACOTCHI.
I cannot speak at this point to the specifics of how all of these various activities unfolded over the week, as we are yet to have time to regroup and debrief. Consequently, I will just write briefly about the medicine side of things, as that is the part that I was specifically in charge of. Other components of the trip were run by other board members, and we will await blog postings from them. Also forthcoming will be a number of pictures, as we had the good fortune of having on board a professional photojournalist for the trip.
On Saturday evening, we took a trip to Pa K’in for an inaugural ceremony with our friend who is an ajq’ij (Maya spiritual guide) Roberta. We are in the habit of having a large ceremony on January 1st of every year, which is usually highly anticipated by the community, but scheduling problems kept us out of the country until January 5.
On Sunday, January 6, the physicans took a field trip to see our projects in Pa K’in. The purpose of their visit was to provide critique and perspective, and to help us prioritize how to grow this project in the most efficient way possible. Their feedback on essential medications, patient management, and other logistical issues will be most valuable over the coming months.
After this short day, we took a bus to Chiq’a’l Sunday evening in preparation for the real heart of the week, which was subspecialty work (pediatrics and gynecology) in Tecpán and Chiq’a’l with ACOTCHI. We saw patients for three days in Chiq’a’l and two days in Tecpán, entirely in Kaqchikel, with myself and Emily Tummons translating for our pediatrican Mike Hill and our gynecologist Melinda Dabrowski. Although we have been working with ACOTCHI for some time, this has previously been mostly in the realm of training and capacity-building. This was our first of what will become ongoing attempts to provide regular specialist contact for their patients, and it went very well. The pace was slow and leisurely, with much laughing and fun, and we provided a wide range of free medications and diagnostic services in addition to consults.
Two half-days during the week, one in Tecpán and one in Chiq’a’l, were also dedicated to midwife training. As part of our grant from the Conservation, Food, and Health Foundation, we are trying to foster regular training connections between North American medical specialists and the midwifes. In part these connections are designed to show the healthy, collegial ways in which physicans can interact with midwives–something that is sorely lacking in Guatemala. Additionally, as these sessions are all conducted in Kaqchikel, they are designed to introduce midwives to some themes in maternal and child health in a way that is comprehensible to them–most training sessions in Guatemala are conducted in Spanish and, as a result, much is lost on the participants. The training themes for this week included neonatal resuscitation and postpartum hemorrhage.
The latter theme of hemorrhage also served as a kick-off for another of our midwifery collaborative projects, which is the introduction of misoprostol (kindly donated by US organizations) into home-based midwifery practices, as a way to reduce the in-home maternal mortality rates.
The week concluded on a high-note in Tecpán with a field-trip and formal exchange of thanks and gifts at Iximche’, the ruins of the Kaqchikel empire.