Liberation Medicine: Observation and Reflection on Experience and Concrete Suggestions to Action


Presented By Joy Mockbee, MD, MPH

Family Physician in Tucson, Arizona


My experience with liberation medicine has been through the combination of clinical medicine and public health, in the tradition of community-oriented primary care.


Seeing and treating patients in a compassionate, dignified manner, especially in a place like Chiapas where people are routinely and systematically denied any sort of dignified care in itself helps to affirm the individual's dignity- However, the greatest effects toward liberation occur when individuals not only have dignified care but see their problems within a societal context and come to the realization that They can work to change that society. It occurs when the individual changes from the mere recipient of care to the one solving the problems.


One example from my experience in Chiapas with Doctors for Global Health regards the approach toward malnutrition. As a clinician, most of the patients I saw were malnourished I would try to point out my concern and nicely make suggestions for ways to improve it. However, if they had no access to food then there was not much they could do, regardless of my suggestions. Most parents walked away from the process feeling bad that they weren't able to provide for their children, not empowered by it.


One day I went to one of the autonomous communities where one of the Mexican doctors is working with health promoters. They started off weighing one or two kids whose families wandered by, but soon there were many families. The promoters weighed the children and plotted their weights on a large growth chart. It was soon evident that all of the children were malnourished. The women then started talking about why their children were malnourished. Some said it was because of parasites, others chimed in that parasites were because they didn't have latrines, or adequate water supplies. Others said it was because they didn't have enough food, because they had to go work in someone else's fields rather than grow their own crops, and because they had to spend time guarding the community from the military rather than gathering food. They went on and on and then started coming up with solutions: to build latrines, start a community garden, wash their hands before eating continue to fight for their rights to land, education, and representation. Rather than leaving disempowered, they realized that they weren't alone and that there are things that they can do. It was a step toward liberation from the oppression of poverty and marginalization that they have suffered under for so many years.