Indigenous Populations and Health Care




The Class of 1965 Term Associate Professor

Project Summary

Along with Professor Falleti and PhD student Santiago Cunial, I travelled to South America to do field work in indigenous communities as part of my 2019 PURM internship. We conducted research in the Great South American Chaco, in the tri-border area between Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. In this region, access to primary health care among indigenous communities is highly dependent on geographical as well as cultural distances. The environmental circumstances pose high barriers to access to primary health care and in the case of pregnant women, they pose a high risk to their health and their newborn. In the context of these dispersed and hard to reach populations, mobile health units can make a significant difference for public health outcomes. The project “Innovations in Health Care Delivery in the Greater Chaco” is part of an unfunded collaborative research agreement with Fundación Mundo Sano and ADESAR, two non-governmental health organizations of Argentina. Mundo Sano and ADESAR have been providing health care services to pregnant women in the region. Their medical intervention consists of week-long visits to the rural populations of six localities with a health care delivery vehicle or mobile unit.

This research study lead by Political Science professor Tulia Falleti seeks to compare the effectiveness of ADESAR/Mundo Sano mobile intervention among countries, localities, and indigenous communities and to evaluate the conditions for a successful reproduction of this model of health care. With the purpose of providing an evaluation of the ADESAR/Mundo Sano project, the three of us engaged with on-the-ground operations and conducted interviews of patients and health personnel during our stay. Prior to the trip, we were involved with searching and summarizing relevant bibliography, crafting questions for the interviews, and transcribing Spanish interviews.

I cannot possibly stress how comfortable and engaged I felt with my work as a research assistant in this project. Besides the research skills, my take on this experience lies in the numerous reflections I have had and still have, even long after the trip concluded. In fact, this internship may have come to an end, but my involvement with this matter --and project-- is gladly just starting. I was able to see with my own eyes the misery, exploitation, and subjugation these communities, and specifically women, suffer because of their identity. In the Social Sciences, many of us feel the obligation and commitment of studying, listening, and giving space to our indigenous brothers and sisters so that together we can exchange knowledge and transform our surroundings. I am convinced that this experience constituted a step towards that endeavor. During my stay, I was not only occupied with helping my professor getting the answers she was looking, but accidently generating my own questions along the way. Two days before leaving, professor Falleti asked me to continue working on this project with her after the PURM internship was over, which sounded marvelous to me.