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November 23, 2010

ONE Blog: “Day Two in Guatemala: An Inside Look at Health Programs that Work”

By Opportunity International

With World AIDS Day coming up on Dec. 1, celebrity activist Christy Turlington Burns reports on her ongoing work with (RED) and the ONE Campaign on the No Child Born with HIV campaign. At Opportunity, we’re inspired by her commitment to improving the lives of women in the developing world with these health initiatives. The following blog post, “Day Two in Guatemala: An Inside Look at Health Programs that Work,” written by Burns, was originally published on the ONE Blog, and it is Burns’ second post in the three-part series:

Christy Turlington Burns is visiting Guatemala to check in on maternal health progress after shooting a piece of her documentary, No Woman No Cry, there a few years ago…

After focusing on the HIV pieceof the maternal, newborn and child health puzzle yesterday, I was eager to see more broadly what has been happening in Guatemala. Thanks to our friends at USAID, we had a full day of seeing a wide array of service provision in the Chimaltenango region.

The Guatemalan government has committed to scaling up access to primary health care through its Extension of Coverage Program. This is a concept that I’ve seen used so beautifully in different parts of the world and it just makes good sense. Rather than encourage people to seek services in regional hospitals or clinics that do not have the capacity to provide general health care, the program deploys health care workers across a region and treat people where they are in their communities instead.

In this case, we traveled to a village called El Rosario where Renacimiento, a local NGO, has extended the traditional health services by establishing temporary “convergence centers” (a monthly, rotating, day-long health clinic) in a volunteer’s home. We visited with a young female general practitioner, Claudia, who visits this community regularly to provide a range of familyhealth care including prenatal, postnatal and child health services. She relies heavily on the nurses, midwives and the community health workers to help her reach more patients in the surrounding areas. And it’s working. We were astounded to learn that this community hasn’t had a maternal mortality in two years.

This is an incredible achievement in a country that has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the Latin American and Caribbean region. The region as a whole had 54 mortalities per 1,000 live births when the program first started nine years ago, but today that’s been cut by more than half down to 21 mortalities per 1,000 births.

We had a great conversation about the major barriers to scaling up, which seemed to us a fantastic model. Limited health care workers are of course a primary concern, but reliable, sustainable resources through the Ministry of Health was also an issue. Guatemala has proven that it can reach people and scale up its efforts. The Extension of Coverage program actually exceeded its original targets and reached 5 million Guatemalans, but then had to close 100 convergence programs and thus cut one million people off of coverage due to a lack of funds to pay salaries…

For more on Christy Turlington Burns’ visit to Guatemala, read the full post at the ONE Blog.