Águida: A Leader Working for the Health and Development of Her Community
Peru’s maternal mortality rate remains among the highest in the Americas. Access to health care workers who speak indigenous languages such as Quechua is almost nonexistent. Chronic child malnutrition affects close to half of children under five years of age. And men pay little attention to areas considered "women's issues," such as maternal, child, and reproductive health.
Fortunately, all of this is changing in the rural Peruvian community of Tutumbaru, thanks to Águida Vicaña Curo and the Local Development Committee (LDC).
Águida’s efforts to improve her community’s health began in 2005 under the USAID project Healthy Communities and Municipalities (HCM), implemented by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), with the aim of improving maternal and child health throughout Peru. HCM staff met with the 96 families in Águida’s community to form, train, and coach the LDC, which is comprised of men and women dedicated to improving the lives of their neighbors.
As part of the LDC, Águida routinely visits all the families in Tutumbaru to encourage them to adopt healthier lifestyles. The LDC also leads community information meetings to educate the families about basic healthy behaviors, such as cooking nutritious meals, chlorinating water to make it safe for drinking, and giving birth in the local health facility.
Águida and the LDC have seen their efforts take root: now all of the children in Tutumbaru under 6 months are exclusively breastfed, all children between 6 and 23 months are drinking safe water, and pregnant women are regularly attending prenatal visits.
Two years after the LCD was created, the people of Tutumbaru elected Águida as its president, and, in 2009, she was elected mayor of Tutumbaru. Her election marked a milestone in the history of the community—Águida became the first woman to hold such an important position.
Under her leadership, women are encouraged to participate in decision-making and men are encouraged to take an active role in monitoring and improving the health of the community, which the LDC routinely surveys every six months. "Before, the men did not meddle in women’s health; that was seen as wrong. Now men and women work together as one body," says Juan Coronado, a member of the LDC.
Águida’s accomplishments were recognized internationally in 2012 by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which selected her experience as one of four winners in the Fifth Contest for Best Practices that Mainstream Gender Equality in Health. The second phase of the HCM project, HCM II, published the experience in Tutumbaru, thus disseminating the story of Águida’s triumphs to new audiences.
Águida notes that her greatest satisfaction comes not from the accolades, but from the knowledge that every day, the women and children of her community are growing healthier and have the opportunity to lead healthier, better lives.