2017 General Assembly Live Blog- Liberation Medicine in Action: Mexico

Liberation medicine in action: updates from Mexico

Irma Cruz - DGH Founding Member, Doctor working with Comunidades Campesinas En Camino, CCC in Oaxaca, Mexico

Juan Manuel Canales - DGH Founding Member, Doctor working in Chiapas, Mexico

Irma: We are really appreciative for all the new faces joining in this struggle, especially given the climate currently.

Juan Manuel - I was asked to provide some inspiring words to youth:

I wrote on the board, Salud. It’s important to work towards health for all and to always fight against the 45.

‘Rebelde dentro del rebelde’ - it’s important for youth to always have a rebellious spirit.

Irma: It’s important to understand how health fits within the greater context of the organization. Using the idea of liberation medicine has been our driving force. We have come to understand it as the fundamental pillar of how to do community health. We have been working to involve youth and other community members in the discussion, and we invite all to participate in the discussion about what liberation medicine really means.

Talking about the current system & context in Mexico. There is huge impunity in the government currently. It is important to realize that you can’t voice any opposition if you are dead or disappeared or imprisoned. There have been grave human rights abuses, there is enormous levels of corruption at all levels of the government. Increasing levels of privatization of medicine also has had disastrous effects. The local situation is also very difficult. There are often road blocks - people now do not even care why the roads are blocked, they just move on. The local government is not interested in resolving the problems of the community (y gremios).

There have been recently large numbers of deaths on the new highways. Many of these have resulted in our communities being completely cut off from the rest of the country by these road blockades - no telephones, no access to food - it has to be flown in (rice, beans, etc.). This has grave impacts on the health of the community. In Mexico it is also being said that the middle class is disappearing - it is becoming only the rich and the poor. In theory there is no “open war.” This means that technically we are in a time of peace. However there is large amounts of insecurity and delinquency - especially organized crime with people with large guns.

The CCC was formed in 1995, the same year as DGH. It was formed in conjunction with the Catholic priests, who, under the principles of liberation theology, understood that the campesinos needed a way of selling their goods. The basis was the founding principles.

There are 50 communities that are connected to CCC in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca. Currently, there are 8 cooperatives. One relates to health, the others relate to farming, production of organic sesame oil, etc. We believe it is important to maintain and continue to cultivate the native seeds. Areas of health that we focus on include: cultivation of medical plants. We continue to exchange our experience including in the various communities. In the community of Santa Lucia they are working to understand and learn alternative therapies. Our hope is to rescue integrative medicine. We are currently planting in the traditional way, medicinal plants in a spiral beds. We have a Korean therapist who has come to share & teach her techniques. We also have dental students who come to work. We have also started a therapeutic yoga program to alleviate the back pain that workers have from picking sesame seeds in the fields. The campesinos, who obviously had never been exposed to yoga previously, were amazed.

We want to continue accompanying, working in solidarity with the communities. It is important to remember the term “love for all” - if we don’t integrate this into our work, our work becomes work, and not a pleasure. With the spirit of service, visiting houses, helping them with their own household chores, creating spaces for children so that the women can continue to be involved in the work instead of having to do only childcare. It is urgent that we open our eyes, continue to learn from each other and continue to exchange ideas.

Our new needs in the program. Currently we are needing computers for children of the campesinos who are now going to college. We also have a gentleman who is studying music in Oaxaca, who has been going every weekend to the communities to teach children music as a way to keep them away from drugs. We are needing to fundraise to buy him a clarinet to be able to continue this work.

We are also working to produce organic sesame oil. This oil is made with love, we are inviting you to get to know this product. We are trying to break into the US market, however this is a very difficult process especially because of the free trade agreements that exist. Our goal is that this project becomes self-sustaining.

Juan Manuel:

Currently in Mexico there are a lot of things that make us sad, upset, and embarrassed about the situation, but we must continue to have hope and faith to continue the fight to construct, another world is possible.  “To free ourselves from the diseases that oppress us and from the oppressions that make us sick.”  

We maybe don’t know exactly what liberation medicine is - Instead we are all, together, creating what it means.

125 million pop 53.2 million who are living in poverty. There are good doctors in the health system in mexico, but the system itself is problematic.

In Mexico we have lots of infectious medical problems - leishmaniasis, zika, TB, worms, dengue, chagas. We also have many systemic, NCDs.

In Chiapas, where we work there is a wealth of indigenous Mayan culture. In 1994, there was an armed uprising in Chiapas as a response to the signing of NAFTA. This resulted in the creation of los caracoles, which represented the independent Zapatista government in opposition to the Mexican government. Chiapas is a very mountainous region. The houses are not like the houses in the US or mexico city, but they are dignified, and the people are proud of them. The indigenous traditions have been integrated. The synchronization of these beliefs with the the christian traditions is an integral part of community life. For example, we celebrate Day of the Dead instead of Halloween - this is a way of honoring our ancestors.

We participate in the political and cultural events of the Zapatistas. The clinics we use have either been donated or constructed as projects within the communities. These clinics are now built of cement, which is a big improvement on the previous wooden structures. We work to teach & train community health workers. We teach them, for example how to use glucometers and check people’s blood sugars - being able to explain to them the difference between pre-diabetics, diabetics, etc. many of our health promoters are women, many of whom did not go to school for various reasons. In the clinics that we have we serve everyone - we are a generalist clinic, serving adults, children, pregnant women. We also teach small surgical procedures that are done in the office. Many of these techniques are ones that were learned during the war in El Salvador. This ends up being much cheaper for the patients. They do resections of small cysts or lipomas in the clinic settings. The health promoters are taught many things, including how to do basic statistics to be able to show successes in such things as vaccination campaigns.

Many of our patients face diseases of poverty. One example is a patient who struggled for 9 years with spirotrichosis, and was finally able to be cured with itraconazole. We have an endemic area for leishmaniasis, so we see many cases of this.

We have been teaching courses about liberation medicine to medical students including students at the school of intercultural medicine. We have also focused on mental health, and we have organized teachings and analyses of the health systems in the US & Mexico in collaboration with our US & Cuban partners.

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