Rural Peruvian Community Project Named One of PAHO’s Best Gender and Health Practices

President Águida Curo Vicaña, holding the orange HCM Toolkit, stands with women members of the Local Development Committee of Tutumbaru. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

In rural Peru, women are rarely in official positions of power. In fact, certain public health issues – family planning, maternal health and child health -- are considered "women's issues." The Peru Healthy Communities and Municipalities II (HCM II) project, funded by USAID and led by Management Sciences for Health, is trying to shift these patterns in 500 rural Peruvian communities.

The people of Tutumbaru, one Amazonian community in central Peru where narcotrafficking is common, are already experiencing changes. Through the use of tools developed by the HCM II project, gender inequities are shifting within the community. For the first time, the Local Development Committee is headed by a woman, Águida Curo Vicaña. Four out of the ten committee members are women. Men are now involved in the process of monitoring maternal and child health issues.

These changes have resulted in measurable improvements in the health status of citizens of Tutumbaru. Between 2007 and 2011, HCM II documented a 50.5 percent increase in boys and girls 6- to 23-months old receiving five solid meals per day. One hundred percent of those children now have access to safe water and 100 percent of women of fertile age are familiar with family planning methods. In addition, in the last three years, no mother has died in childbirth in Tutumbaru.

These improvements are remarkable, especially considering the overall health statistics in Peru: 40 percent of children in rural areas suffer from chronic malnutrition, 17 out of every thousand children die before their first birthday, and the maternal mortality rate is 93 per one hundred thousand live births.

The HCM II project helped to form the Local Development Committee and build their capacity to analyze the health situation in the community through the use of the community diagnosis and plan tool. Through coordinated efforts with local health and administrative authorities, Águida actively guided the Local Development Committee to also help build the leadership and management capacity of community members -- both men and women -- so that they can better monitor the health status of the community and address maternal and child health care challenges.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) recently recognized the project's contribution to promoting gender equity in Tutumbaru, and in particular, the efforts of Águida to improve the health of her community.

The PAHO Office of Gender, Diversity, and Human Rights selected HCM II as a winner in its fifth contest of Best Practices in Gender and Health Contest. The contest awards experiences that incorporate a gender equality perspective in health and "better address the differential needs and opportunities of men and women in the sphere of health." Four experiences were selected from a total of 93 applicants from 19 Latin American countries.

The award includes an opportunity to present the best practice at PAHO's International Women's Day celebration in Washington, DC on March 9, 2012, plus $5,000 to write up the experience, translate and print it. Águida, president of the Local Development Committee, and Dr. Edgar Medina, project director of HCM II, will represent the project at the Washington celebration.