Public health in Mexico


Lucía, 22,  holds her son Erick, 8 months, who was born with a cleft palate and without eyes.

Lucía, 22, holds her son Erick, 8 months, who was born with a cleft palate and without eyes.

In the beginning of November, I hiked for hours through the rural mountains of southern Mexico during a downpour. As I tried to protect my camera while slipping down the muddy trail I only hoped that I would get the stories that I came for—and not ruin my camera in the process.

As a graduate student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism focusing on health and science reporting, I was in Mexico during a week off from classes this fall, where I got to shadow a scientist whose work interested me.

Since I’m hoping to write about global health during my career as a journalist, I decided to shadow someone in the field. After months of back and forth phone calls and emails between myself, Paul Farmer and Partners in Health’s media relations team, I managed to organize a trip to Chiapas, Mexico. As PIH’s newest location, the staff had a lot of capacity to support a journalist visiting for a week, and gave me extraordinary access to the work they are doing in southern Mexico.

My interest in global health started when I was an undergrad at Northwestern minoring in global health studies. Keeping in line with what many global health professors at Northwestern will tell you, global health is truly interdisciplinary and can take you down many roads. When I declared the minor as a sophomore, I was a Weinberg student with absolutely no thoughts of becoming a journalist. Global health became the thing that eventually led me towards writing as a career.

I went to Mexico prepared to write a few stories about the patients that Partners in Health was working with in Chiapas. Once I arrived, I met Jafet Arietta, the Director of Operations for Partners in Health Mexico, and immediately had at least 10 stories that I wanted to pursue. I arrived around midnight at PIH’s office, where I mulled the story ideas over in my sleep, ready to start working the next morning.

The next day we headed into Soledad—one of the rural communities about 3 hours away from the office where PIH works. Until February, when PIH started working in Soledad and the surrounding areas, the community had never had a doctor.

During the three days of my trip that we spent in Soledad, I accompanied Jafet and two other doctors on trips around the village to visit patients. There I met Lucía, a young mother struggling to care for her 8-month-old son who was born with a cleft palate and no eyes.

I relied on Jafet to help translate and make sure Lucía was comfortable with my recorder, notebooks and camera. As she began to tell me her story, I sat with my camera in my lap, hoping she would eventually allow me take photographs of her and her son, Erick. After about 20 minutes Jafet translated for me, and said that Lucía’s only worry was that she hadn’t done her hair nice enough to be photographed! But otherwise, it was okay.

The second patient that I decided to profile was more difficult. He was a schizophrenic man, Uvaldo, in his early 30s who was confined to a small wooden shack next to his family’s home. He had become violent during a hallucination, threatening to kill his family members. Putting him in those living conditions was the only way that his family knew how to protect themselves.

After I came back to the US, I’ve kept in touch with Jafet and her colleagues in Mexico. They tell me that Uvaldo and Erick are doing better, and that especially for Uvaldo, they are hopeful that he will soon be able to interact with the community.



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