Agribusinesses in Trifinio, Guatemala renovated cattle and pasture lands into crops for exports which dramatically changed the area. The transformation drove approximately 25,000 people into this remote area in the southwest rural region of Guatemala and employed thousands of people who sought an opportunity in this growing business. The University of Colorado created a healthcare alliance to provide quality medical treatments in the now booming community.
Few people know about Trifinio, Guatemala even though it is a major producer for AgroAmerica’s Chiquita bananas. The town is made up of small concrete houses and only a few paved roads. Most homes are single-room units. When it comes to cultural development, the town’s only form of entertainment is a local bar.
This small and highly impoverished community suffers from the reality of poor health care access. With its nearest hospital one hour away in the town of Coatepeque Guatemala, the residents of this area face the challenges of malnutrition, high infant mortality rates, and a range of infectious diseases. More than 46% of children have intestinal parasites, 38.7% of children have anemia and one-third of women are affected by pregnancy complications. The numbers could not say it clearly enough; this community needed help. Fortunately, AgroAmerica teamed up with the University of Colorado to find a solution.
University of Colorado partners with AgroAmerica
In 2011 Fernando and Gustavo Bolaños, brothers and CEOs and COOs of AgroAmerica, became frustrated by the lack of health care access in their community. With Guatemala’s history of little investment in healthcare, they found themselves unable to ask the public sector for help. Gustavo Bolaños himself addressed this issue in an interview where he claimed, “In Guatemala, we have a lot of inequality and poverty, the government hasn’t been able to really cover the basic needs of the population. We as a private company, see all the needs of our people, and the biggest problem we are facing is education and health”. Therefore, rather than going to the government, they turned to the University of Colorado’s Global Health Center.
With an investment of 1 million U.S. dollars, the Bolaños made a healthcare alliance with the Colorado School of Public Health. Their goal was to build a medical center on their banana plantation. Three years later, the Bolaños proudly stood before the new medical facility. It houses a clinic, laboratory and conference space. The Trifinio Center for Human Development serves around 4,500 plantation workers, along with the 24,000 residents of the neighboring villages, and is “staffed by CU doctors, nurses, midwives, students and other health professionals rotating through Guatemala”.
The Last Six Years
Before Trifinio’s Center for Human Development (CHD) a visit to a health professional cost people in this community at least $25 USD. This did not include transportation fees and the loss of a day’s wages. With the medical facility, that cost has dropped to less than $5 USD. Families now have access to health resources without a geographical and economic barrier. The clinic is committed to decreasing neonatal morbidity, childhood mortality and increasing safe delivery practices and childhood growth and development. Along with these medical goals, the center hopes to impact the health education and social realities of its community.
In 2017, the CHD began a youth leadership program run by participating high-school students from the area. This initiative provided an opportunity for future leaders to learn about community organizing and advocacy that could improve human development. The program not just helps the community, but “students selected for this program receive a scholarship to cover their school fees,” promoting access for educational attainment.
Along with the youth program, the center provides sexual health education to neighboring schools in the area. For mothers, it has a maternal and child health program. This provides quality prenatal care and gives families a direct line for medical professionals to track both the mother’s and child’s health.
The center also conducts research to serve the needs of the community and bring new knowledge to the rest of the world. Their Student Health Survey, taken in late June and early July of 2019 “enrolled 1,414 participants from 15 Trifinio middle and high schools” to better understand the health and social realities of these children, and hopefully address the needs that are found.
In 2013 Stephen Berman, the director of the Center for Global Health at the University of Colorado said, “The solutions we develop through this program may someday be replicated in communities all over the world”. The program has had measurable benefits for its community, which is a good reason for its replication in other regions. Health care accessibility is not an easy system. But we saw major success through the healthcare alliance of a privately run company and a public institution. There are possibilities for new solutions to address the needs of those most vulnerable.
Ana Paola Asturias