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USF Health Leads Health Education Project in Panama

| Intl Programs, Monday Letter, Our World

The USF Health office in Panama is executing a 3-phase health education intervention in the Comarca Ngäbe Buglé, the largest indigenous territory in Panama. The project, funded by the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation (SENACYT), follows previous health interventions by the National Institutes of Health and the Gorgas Memorial Institute. Dr. Arlene Calvo (Community and Family Health) is leading the project in collaboration with faculty from the University of Panama and the director of the Panamanian Telemedicine and Telehealth Program.  Dr. Arturo Rebollón, alumnus of the USF College of Public Health, serves as the project coordinator.

The initial phase of the project included a baseline evaluation of the health education needs of communities in the Comarca using social marketing processes and community participation to develop and validate a tailored health intervention. With input from representatives of communities from throughout the Comarca, the project team developed portable flipcharts that could easily be transported to even the most rural communities. Topics identified by the community members as important and included in the flipcharts include nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, the environment, pregnancy and the role of the midwife, and domestic violence. Also, the flipcharts feature pictures of Ngäbe Buglé community members and use local terminology whenever possible to illustrate the topics covered, making the information more relevant and more easily accessible to all in the Comarca.

The second phase of the project involved training 50 health promoters, midwives, and traditional healers in the use of the tailored flipcharts that were developed in the initial phase. Once trained, the indigenous healthcare workers expect to reach over 2000 people throughout the Comarca. In addition, 30 health professionals received special training in Information and Communications Technologies as applied to health care in rural areas. The project team implemented a 5-month follow up period to watch and work with the health promoters in action in their communities.

The final phase of the project will consist of evaluation of the impact and analysis of the results of the health education intervention. The communities of the Comarca have been very open to working with the health promoters and the project team, and preliminary results have been very positive. A 70-year-old resident of one of the more isolated communities said that he wished there had been more projects like this, noting that health promoters never visited his community when he was a child.