Compañeros En Salud (CES), PIH’s new project in Chiapas, Mexico, has taken a major step to improve delivery of quality health care to more than a thousand people in and around the isolated community of La Soledad. After four weeks of training, the project’s first four acompañantes (community health workers) began visiting patients in their village at the end of June, providing both medical and social support and bridging the gap between the clinic and the community.

In Chiapas, CES is targeting diseases that frequently go undetected and untreated for months or years, causing needless disability. These include chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, as well as asthma, epilepsy, and mental health disorders. As CES Director Dr. Hugo Flores explains, “These illnesses require long-term treatment and other therapies. Accompaniment by a caring person helps encourage patients to continue treatment, and helps patients feel they are not alone.”

The first group of acompañantes consists of four women who were nominated for the job by their neighbors in the community, selected by CES, and approved by the community. According to CES program manager Lindsay Palazuelos, they all share skills, experience, and personality traits essential to the work of accompaniment: caring personalities; the ability to read and write; experience at helping people; the ability to commit several hours a day to the job; and a compassionate style of communication. In order to encourage the women to participate and build capacity in the community, CES is providing several incentives, including ongoing training that opens up new career opportunities and monthly food packages for the acompañantes and their families.

CES Director Hugo Flores trains acompañantes Floridalma Pérez and Adelaida López on hygiene and sanitation.

Trainings for the acompañantes included topics such as the basics of chronic disease management, how to build trust with a patient, and how to know when to refer a patient to a higher level of care. “We are thrilled with this initial group,” said Dr. Jafet Arrieta, CES’s operations director. “Each woman is truly motivated by a desire to help her community, and we know they will each make a difference in patients’ lives.”

The first class is a pilot that will allow CES to refine the acompañante program and then expand it to additional clinics throughout the Sierra region.