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Health Promoters Honored for Saving Lives in Colombia

Rural NGO wins the 2007 Clarence H. Moore Award for Voluntary Service for helping to reduce deaths and illness in indigneous communities

Quibdó, Colombia, Mar. 10, 2008 — A group of rural health promoters traveled 14 hours by boat last week to receive the 2007 Clarence H. Moore Award for Voluntary Service for their service to indigenous and ethnic communities in Chocó, Colombia.

The Associated Committee of Ethnic Health Promoters of Lower Atrato, known as COAPIBAS, received the award in Quibdó on March 3 in recognition of its "outstanding work and dedication providing preventive and primary health care to indigenous and ethnic communities."

The award was presented in Quibdó to 10 of the group’s members by the Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), as part of the organizations’ Awards for Excellence in Inter-American Public Health Program.

Health promoters being recognized by PAHO's Dr. Alfaro

COAPIBAS is a nongovernmental organization of more than 30 health promoters who live and work in the largely indigenous, Afro-Colombia, and Mestizo communities in Colombia’s northwestern department of Chocó. The communities comprise more than 20,000 people located in remote areas where there are no roads and most residents lack running water and electricity. The health promoters offer critical preventive and curative services that have contributed to a decline in reported rates of deaths and illness in the communities they serve.

Dr. Gerardo Alfaro, PAHO coordinator of technical cooperation for health systems and services development in Colombia, presented the PAHO/PAHEF award to COAPIBAS’s president, Frey Tuberquia, and to the group’s health promoters during a ceremony led by Chocó Governor Patrocinio Sánchez Montes de Oca and attended by the mayors of 15 Chocó municipalities.

COAPIBAS' Frey Tuberquia (left) PAHO's Dr. Gerardo Alfaro. (right)

Dr. Alfaro conveyed personal messages of congratulations from PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses and PAHEF Executive Director Edward Kadunc.

"Indigenous health and the health of vulnerable populations are a special focus of mine during my tenure at PAHO," said Dr. Roses in her message. "Thus, I am especially pleased to announce this award."

"COAPIBAS is an exemplary example of what dedicated health workers can do to bring improved health and lives to their families and communities," said Mr. Kadunc. "We commend you for your accomplishments and commitment."

The Clarence H. Moore Award for Voluntary Service is given each year to recognize and celebrate the public health achievements of nongovernmental organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Mr. Clarence Moore was a distinguished public administrator and a man of high idealism and altruistic motivation. He served in various leadership capacities at PAHO during his long and distinguished career. Upon retirement from PAHO, he directed PAHEF from its inception in 1968 until his death in 1988.

The Pan American Health and Education Foundation is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization working to combat disease, lengthen life, improve health care services, foster health research, and enhance the capacities of health care workers in the Americas through grant-making and direct program implementation. The Foundation works to promote philanthropy as a core social value, and shares the Pan American Health Organization’s vision of Health for All.

The Pan American Health Organization, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It serves as the Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO).

COAPIBAS advisor, Mr. Alan Curtis Wands shared highlights of the award ceremony and what some health promoters experienced afterward.

We had a very busy morning with the health promoters from COAPIBAS who made the 14 hour boat trip from Riosucio to Quibdó, so I had my hands full! The trip was 14 hours instead of 8 because BOTH motors on the boat we travelled failed en route. We ended up travelling 2 hours on the river in the dark with numerous stops...

"WHAT A DAY! The letter from Dra. Roses was absolutely beautiful. The Ministry of Social Protection also provided a lovely presentation. The night we arrived the health promoters stayed up for hours practicing what they would say. Most had never been this far from the lower Atrato River and none had ever been in such a formal gathering. They were very excited and thrilled with the responses and congratulations from so many. The newly elected mayors from both municipalities offered their unconditional support, the PAHO and Ministry of Social Protection are looking into how to incorporate the health promoters into the system more effectively. It was a wonderful day that is doing all we would want for advancing health in our region."

"The Promoters left on the boat an hour ago and I am here for the last two days of meetings with health officials to hopefully concretize action plans. Meanwhile Marta Manyoma will return to her community that the guerrillas have taken over since she left. She has 7 cases of serious diarrea that ocurred after her departure. Angel Nelis and Heberto return to finish the constrution of their health posts, all have the struggles of volunteer health promoters in poor, isolated villages. But they all returned with a spirit I`ve almost never seen. They know that others believe in their work, that they are supported and that their efforts are respected. They will never forget these days and this certificate and acknowledgement. Nor shall I. Thank you.

"One last story for now. 'Cogollo', (Luis Ernesto Cogollo, he goes by his last name) recounted how he was called out last week at 11 p.m. to see a patient who had been cut by a machete earlier that day. It had taken hours to arrive in Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) where he lives and the wound needed to be sutured soon to not risk further infection or the lack of ability to heal the wound because of delay. He did not have a flashlight that worked, but nontheless he, the patient, and two others swam across the Jiguamiandò River and got to the health post. They lit a candle to see while he sutured, but the wind kept blowing out the candle, so one of the men kept his lighter going so that Cogollo could suture. Eleven sutures with 2-0 sutures were placed and the patient returned home."

After receiving the award for the health promoters, $1,500 of the $2500 check will be used to install a solar light system in the health post. Concern America recognized the award and provided flashlights that recharge the batteries with a hand crank.

"In a very direct way we thank you for providing light to the hearts and spirits of people here, and to the eyes of those who heal with compassion, capability and comittment."

Below are more photos from the awards ceremony.

Dr. Patrocinio Sanchez, Governor of Chocó Department, congratulates COAPIBAS

Left to right: Dr. Gina Carrioni, Ministry of Social Protection, Office of Social Promotion, focus on the indigenous population. Dr. Gerardo Alfaro, PAHO/WHO Colombia. Dr. Luis Fernando Correa, Ministry of Social Protection, area of emergencies and natural disasters. Dr. Patrocinio Sanchez, Governor of Chocó Department

COAPIBAS advisor, Alan Curtis Wands, welcoming Dr. Liz Parra, Land Official with the Department of Chocó to the award ceremony.
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