Alumna Dr. Erika Arteaga-Cruz’s passion for more ‘collective health’

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The intersection of social justice and global health has always been a calling for USF College of Public Health alumna Dr. Erika Arteaga-Cruz.

In her role as the health projects officer for the Belgium Socialist Party Cooperation for Development-NGO in Quito, Ecuador, she fulfills her public health passion of working with indigenous groups and women organizations to advocate for health rights.

“It is a job that gives freedom to pursue social justice and not just a technical position [behind] a desk,” she said.

USF COPH alumna Dr. Erika Arteaga-Cruz. (Photo courtesy of Arteaga-Cruz)

Fos, the Belgium Socialist Party for solidarity NGO, promotes the right to social protection in health for the population of Ecuador through dialogue, debate and community engagement, according to Arteaga-Cruz.

As the health projects officer, Arteaga-Cruz designs, monitors and evaluates programs in Ecuador regarding the right to health, gender and citizenship partnership.

She also analyzes and drafts proposals regarding the social determinants of health—skills she said she started acquiring while earning her MPH from the COPH’s Department of Global Health in 2007 as a Fulbright Scholar and while pursuing her doctoral degree at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar with Jaime Breilh.

Arteaga-Cruz said working with social movements and the ability to work closely with the indigenous movement in Ecuador is what attracted her most to this position.

“During my med school years, community health was a favorite subject and activities in rural communities were important,” she said. “Growing up with a dentist father involved in medical campaigns and brigades to indigenous or rural areas of the country, I developed a social sensitivity toward unfair distribution of resources made public health—collective health—a better choice for later development of the medical career.”

Working among the community is something that has always been close to Arteaga-Cruz, who also holds a medical degree from Ecuador’s Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

Her position frequently sends her across Central America and the Andean region to push for social medicine across Latin America.


Arteaga is frequently invited as a guest speaker advocating for health rights in Latin America. (Photo courtesy of Arteaga-Cruz)

Next month she’s traveling to Chiapas, Mexico to conduct a presentation on her research regarding the indigenous health practices of ‘parteras,’ midwives, in the Cotacachi and Imbabura regions of Ecuador.

“Health is a different practice [in Cotacachi and Imbabura] that includes the sacred connection with the territories,” she said.

Arteaga-Cruz said her time at the COPH and with the applied anthropology department at USF equipped her with the project management, focus group methodology skills and qualitative data collection abilities she uses daily with the indigenous groups she interacts among.

“Living in the U.S. gave me another perspective of how social justice could be achieved also in wealthy countries where injustice also exists and people who do not have anything at all are being exploited by those who accumulate capital,” Arteaga-Cruz said.

Arteaga-Cruz has also served with Aliméntate Ecuador Program (Feed Ecuador Program), European Union in Ecuador, Health Secretary of the Quito metropolitan district, and Social Medicine Latin-American Association (ALAMES). She’s an active board member of the Center for Economic and Social Rights.

Her article, “Good Living (Sumak Kawsay): definitions, critique and implications for development planning in Ecuador,” is on press in the Brazilian Center of Health Studies (CEBES) journal examining the health development model and progressive governmental roles.

She credits the COPH for giving her some of her first glimpses to better understanding the health needs of the community and also acknowledges that one of the main challenges of being a student was also being a mom and a student simultaneously.

Arteaga-Cruz said part of her MPH completion was done due to the support of the father of her children and that she greatly admires Dr. Melody Schiaffino, an alumna of USF, who went ahead and created ‘PhD Moms’ as a support mechanism for single moms to study advanced degrees in Florida.

“My passion is understanding other health views,” she said. “As Virchow said: ‘Medicine is a social science and politics nothing but medicine at a larger scale.’ Thus, ill health and its root causes lies in the unequal distribution of resources worldwide.”


COPH Alumni Fast Five:

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?

Artist / painter.

Where would we find you on the weekend?

Yoga / walking around water to recharge – connect / Full Moon- women’s circles celebration.

What is the last book you read? 

“Dos veces única” by Elena Poniatowska  (Latinamerican novel about the first wife of Diego Rivera and the cultural ambience of Mexico back then).

“Change the World Without Taking Power” by John Holloway.

What superpower would you like to have?

Compassion (inspired by the Dalai Lama).

What’s your all-time favorite movie?

“Star Wars” (IV- V- VI).


Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health