Indigenous Children's Deaths Highlights Need for Better Health
The recent deaths of indigenous children in northwestern Panama
illustrate the urgent need to improve the health of indigenous
peoples in Central America, said IOM today.
Over the past several days, national and international media
have reported the deaths of an unconfirmed number of Ngobe-Bugle
indigenous children in Panama due to respiratory illnesses. High
levels of malnutrition, poor conditions, and limited access to
health services have contributed to the deaths of as many as 40
children living in indigenous territories, and the hospitalization
of many more over the past two months.
As health officials in Panama scramble to respond to the crisis,
IOM and its partners are actively reaching out to migrants from the
same population in Costa Rica. Every year an estimated 12,000
Ngobe-Bugle migrate to Costa Rica during the coffee harvest. The
migrants have already begun to arrive at farms near the southern
border, including many children.
"IOM is concerned about the health of this highly marginalized
population," states IOM's Rosilyne Borland, health programme
officer in Costa Rica. "Migrants often have less access to health
services and are vulnerable to respiratory and other illnesses due
to poor living and working conditions." The living conditions on
many of the farms in Costa Rica are similar to those of indigenous
communities in Panama.
To reach the migrants, IOM and the regional health authorities
of the Caja Costaricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) are providing
medical services on coffee farms under the leadership of Dr. Pablo
Ortiz, Director of the Health Area of Coto Brus. Since 2003, the
CCSS has been operating mobile teams and thanks to funding from the
World Bank, was able to expand the programme in 2007.
The Finca Sana (or Healthy Farm) project supports mobile teams
and includes the training of health promoters within the
population. The medical staff check for respiratory symptoms, test
for tuberculosis and other illnesses, and refer patients to
hospitals as necessary.
"In 2006 we referred 54 people to hospitals for a variety of
reasons, including respiratory problems," states Dr. Ortiz. "Our
teams have seen no evidence of increased respiratory illnesses this
year, but we are continuing to monitor the situation."
Malnutrition is a common problem among the Ngobe-Bugle, a
situation which can make a cold or flu life-threatening. "Under the
Finca Sana program we hope to greatly increase follow-up for
malnutrition among children," comments Borland. "This population is
an urgent health priority in Costa Rica and in Central America. We
hope our project will contribute to an improved health network with
the capacity to effectively respond to this type of health
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