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On Friday 9th September, we held our first PAP smear educational workshop. MEDLIFE has been carrying out PAP smears to test for cervical cancer since some of our earliest clinics. However, recently our nurses have noticed that many women have not been benefiting from these results as they have never been educated on how to read them correctly. Women who were being given normal results were worrying that they had cancer as they didn't know what a positive or a negative smear looked like on paper.
Therefore, the MEDLIFE nurses have been collaborating with obstetrician Zaida Lara to design a workshop that goes hand in hand with giving out the results of the tests. The first of these workshops took place in the community of Kawashi, Villa María del Triunfo where Zaida, along with MEDLIFE nurses Ruth and Carmen, talked the women present through reading their results. Zaida explained to the group what a positive result would look like compared to a negative result and what the different types of abnormality could be. For example, she explained how a result that showed up as being ‘abnormal' could be anything from a yeast infection to an early onset cancer.
The woman who attended the workshop were clearly pleased to hear this news; “as soon as I opened my result I began panicking, having someone to talk through it with me and explain every step made it that much easier,” one woman told us. The workshop also meant that the women were able to talk to the nurses about their individual results and what the next steps would be. For the first time, they were able to act immediately if there was something wrong with their results and know the exact course of action to take. Furthermore, it allowed us to quickly and efficiently get the patients who need more help into our follow up program.
So far, MEDLIFE has treated hundreds of patients who have been diagnosed with abnormal PAP results and helped with 20 cancer diagnosis'. Hopefully, with this new way of delivering information, we will be able to help even more patients to get the treatment they need.
In Febuary 2016 MEDLIFE gave an educational workshop in Talleres Artisenales, a new community for MEDLIFE, located in Pamplona Alta. Year-long interns and local medical staff worked together to give the workshop. Topics included family planning, the importance of regular exams for breast and cervical cancer, what support exists for people in abusive relationships, as well as nutrition and diabetetes prevention. Many women there had never had a breast exam or pap smear, and were encouraged to come to the mobile clinic MEDLIFE will be holding in that community and see a doctor. Local medical staff explained realistic food substitutions people good make to have a healthier diet and reduce diabetes risk, for example, swapping soda for fruit juice without artificial sugars. Educational workshops are a great way to build awareness, organization, and trust within a community before moving onto bigger projects like staircases and mobile clinics!
A child brings a gift for the MEDLIFErs at the meeting.
The hills around Lima where MEDLIFE works are arid and desert like. Access to healthy food like fresh produce is scarce for most residents. When a community in Via El Salvador expressed interest in working with MEDLIFE to creating a community garden, MED programs intern Jessica Danker jumped at the opportunity and decided to work on this as her intern project.
This community had tried to start a garden project in the past, but were unable to complete it because they lacked the resources to purchase proper soil and to modify existing infrastructure to create a good space for the garden.
Over half a billion people worldwide suffer from chronic food insecurity, and many more lack access to healthy foods. The communities MEDLIFE works in are no exception. Community gardens can be an effective way of addressing this problem.
Along with the obvious benefit of creating access to affordable fresh produce, and the health benefits that follow, community gardening has a host of other benefits that are supported by research in a variety of settings. The positive effect that urban green spaces, something that is very scarce in the communities where work in Lima, have on mental health and overall well being is heavily documented. Participation in community gardens increases civic engagement, and has even been shown to be related to reduced crime and juvenile delinquency in some studies.
The local elementary school was chosen as the site of the Via El Salvador, garden so that the community could get the children involved and use it as a learning tool for them. They can learn where their food comes from and about nutrition with hands on experience. The parents, teachers, and children involved with the school are responsible for the upkeep of the garden. The harvest will be distributed to the families with children in the school. MEDLIFE will check in with the school periodically.
The garden is an eco garden, meaning it is grown naturally without the use of pesticides and other chemicals. It has six garden beds planted with lettuce, carrots, cilantro, aguaymento, celery, Swiss chard, beets, and more. Jessica gave an educational workshop about nutrition in November of 2015 after the garden was planted. She talked about the impact of dietary choices like Inca Cola vs. fruit juice, white rice vs. brown rice, how to combat anemia with improved diet and how to use foods from the garden to combat common nutrient deficiencies in children.
As of December the project is going well and Jessica is hoping to do another garden project during her work with MEDLIFE.
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Alaimo K, Packnett E, Miles RA, Kruger DJ. "Fruit and vegetable intake among urban community gardeners."Journal of Nutrition Education & Behavior, 40(2): 94-101, 2008
Ober Allen, J., Alaimo, K., Elam, D., & Perry, E. (2008). Growing vegetables and values: Benefits of neighborhood-based community gardens for youth development and nutrition. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, 3(4), 418-439. doi: 10.1080/19320240802529169
Teig, E., Amulya, J., Bardwell, L., Buchenau, M., Marshall, J., & Litt, J. (2009). Collective efficacy in Denver, Colorado: Strengthening neighborhoods and health through community gardens. Health & Place, 15(4), 1115-1122. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353829209000598
Our latest educational workshop was located in a small community in the Nueva Esperanza area of Via Maria del Triunfo. MEDLIFE will bring a Mobile Clinic to this same community in March of 2013.
During the workshop, MEDLIFE staff members presented on a number of health topics, including the importance of psychological health and sleep, preventative tests for breast and cervical cancers, and nutrition. Along with our usual preventative health topics, we also touched on – for the first time – the important issue of property rights.
As many of our supporters know, MEDLIFE Peru works primarily with low-income, informal settlements established just outside of the city of Lima. Poverty, terrorism, and a lack of opportunities in rural Peru have prompted thousands of residents to migrate to these urban slums. As these communities become bigger, more established, and better organized, residents begin to move toward legal formalization of their homes and communal spaces.
Yet, the country has struggled in developing a comprehensive plan for urban development. With changes in government administration, treatment of informal settlements has varied widely. The involvement of several different agencies, sometimes with conflicting policies, also makes the process of legalization a murky one to navigate.
Santos Abad, a government lawyer, explained the basics of acquiring land title, highlighting the primary agencies involved in the process: COFOPRI (government agency that deals with property formalization), the municipal government, and – in some cases – the court system.
Abad outlined an important law called the prescripción adquisitiva de dominio. This law states that an individual may gain legal land title simply by possessing the land, peacefully and consistently, for a minimum of 10 years. The government's 10-year rule is a seemingly adequate amount of time for legal owners to reclaim their land or, if they wish, take squatters to court.
Community members listened attentively and immediately began to ask questions. In addition to general information about legalizing their property titles, many wanted to know more about the intricacies of sharing property. What happens when you share a home but are not married? How can parents ensure that their homes get passed on to their children?
Residents have voiced a need for more education, in order to better understand their legal rights. MEDLIFE hopes to begin including this type of training, focusing first on property rights, in our upcoming educational workshops.
Stay tuned for more information on important issues regarding land rights in Peru, coming soon!
Last Friday we visited the community of 8 de Diciembre for a seminar on various topics regarding preventative health care, as well as to hand out the Pap smear results for patients who attended a previous Mobile Clinic. The turnout was a lot bigger than we expected, showing us that this community is eager to learn about preventative measures they can take to help protect themselves and their families. From the moment we arrived we saw a very organized community; they had taken the time to rearrange the room to be able to accomodate all participants.
Biz Shenk, one of our MEDLIFE interns, gave a short presentation about mental health, which the community appreciated enormously. Several residents had questions regarding psychological health, but felt ashamed to ask them publicly; for this reason, MEDLIFE is trying to organize visits so that community members can meet one-on-one with psychologists. Two representatives from Manuela Ramos, an NGO that works to secure women's rights, also helped MEDLIFE Field Nurse Meri Lecaros present information about sexual and women's health. Among the topics addressed were how to recognize and prevent STDs, how to prevent cervical cancer, and how to do a quick breast exam to check for breast cancer.
Although participants listened with interest to all of the topics, the one that seemed to interest them the most was malnutrition. Almost every mother in the room was asking for advice; they all wanted to give the best possible nutrition to their children. At the end of the seminar everyone was satisﬁed with the answers given to their questions, and conﬁdent that the information received was not just for them to keep, but to also be shared with others. This group's interest was so strong that they even asked for more meetings, and MEDLIFE plans to continue returning to the zone to provide information on additional health topics.
Inge is a Communications Intern based out of Lima, Peru