PERREAULT Magazine OCT | NOV 2015 - Page 84

Perreault Magazine - 84 -

He learned that families frequently live four to eight people in an 8x10-foot shanty with a wood-burning stove that spreads soot. Many children suffer from malnutrition. “These [new]stoves reduce smoke inhalation in their homes and greatly improving both post-surgical conditions and the lifetime pulmonary health of young children,” said Jarrahy.

His involvement with this community group also enabled him to take a more holistic approach to their surgical care, he said. “Ultimately, to parachute in, operate and leave is not a sustainable model. It is more important to fly in and build something sustainable that [these patients] can take ownership of.”

Approached in this way, “local populations who utilize Western medicine feel better understood and are more likely to want to combine their use of traditional medicine with health services at hospitals and clinics," said Taub, interim chair of the UCLA Latin American Studies Graduate Program. And the need for cross-cultural understanding, is urgent as more indigenous people from the countryside migrate to “poverty belts” around cities in the region, she told symposium participants.

In parts of Mexico, for example, there are no medical services for indigenous migrants who were forced to leave Guatemala to escape violence, said Oscar Gil-Garcia, a postdoctoral fellow in anthropology. While doing research there, he met two indigenous midwives, ages 82 and 101, who helped five women survive childbirth as they fled from Guatemala to border towns in Mexico in the early 1980s.

Indigenous women trusted these traditional midwives more than Western doctors, predominantly men who did not speak their language and advocated the use of stirrups instead of the traditional kneeling position used for childbirth, Gil-Garcia said.

There are other conflicts between doctors and traditional healers. Among the Mapuche people of Chile, traditional healers learn about what’s wrong with patients by examining urine, unwashed clothes or even a national ID card. This method of diagnosis is highly valued by the Mapuche, said Jennifer Guzmn, a project director in the UCLA Department of Family Medicine. She recently earned her Ph.D. in anthropology.

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