When Adelaida Lopez visits her neighbors, it’s more than a social call.
She might check one neighbor’s blood pressure, and confirm that another is keeping his asthma in check with a working inhaler. On any given day, you could find her talking to a mother about her daughter’s epilepsy, or showing a grandfather of two how to monitor his blood sugar.
Chiapas, Mexico - where Lopez lives – is the poorest state in her country, with three of four residents living below the national poverty line. The communities are isolated, scattered across rainforest-blanketed mountains, and connected only by dirt roads that frequently become impassable during the six-month rainy season.
“They have limited access to electricity, no access to cell phones and little or no access to the internet,” says Dan Palazuelos, M.D., co-founder of the Mexico-based health care nonprofit Compañeros en Salud. “Each individual town is like an island in a sea of rain forest.”
The Mexican government guarantees universal access to health care, but in practice, “it’s incredibly difficult to deliver health care to remote rural areas,” Palazuelos says. “It’s difficult to get doctors to come here, it's difficult to get medicines in and it's hard to get sick patients out.”
While Lopez takes responsibility for the health of her village, she isn’t a doctor, a nurse or a pharmacist. She’s one of 80 community health workers – all of them women – who are the anchors of a new concept of community health. And she may just be an antidote to the health inequities faced by rural populations.