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Debora Sanchez Sanchez, 36, feeds her five-day-old son breastmilk with a plastic syringe following lactation advice she received at the PIH-supported maternal waiting home in Jaltenango, Mexico.
Photo by Cecille Joan Avila / Partners In Health

Mexicans have access to universal health coverage—at least, theoretically speaking. The reality, however, is that reliable, quality health care is hard to come by—especially in remote, rural areas.

Partners In Health has worked in Mexico since 2011, operating out of 10 rural, public clinics in the Sierra Madre mountains of Chiapas—one of the most marginalized states in the country. In the past, doctors assigned to work in these clinics kept irregular schedules and lacked support and proper supplies. As a result, residents lacked faith in the local health system and traveled long distances for care.

Compañeros En Salud, as PIH is known locally, has changed that dynamic. We recruit Mexican physicians who have recently graduated medical school and need to fulfill a nationally required one year of social service. These pasantes, or first-year doctors, receive supervision, mentorship, and training from our staff and from visiting residents from hospitals, such as Brigham and Women’s in Boston. The pasantes participate in monthly seminars that focus on the intersection of social justice and global health. Often, they choose to remain past their required year to help supervise the next generations of recruits.

In all 10 communities, PIH staff have recruited and trained residents to serve as bridges between their neighbors and the clinic. These residents are known as community health workers, and specialize in areas including maternal health, depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure. They visit their patients regularly to answer questions and ensure they take their medication.

Maternal mortality is a serious concern in Chiapas, where most women typically give birth at home with the assistance of traditional midwives. In recent years, PIH has collaborated with the Ministry of Health to open a maternal home next to the regional hospital in Jaltenango.

This Casa Materna is staffed with first-year obstetrics and gynecology nurses and supervised by professional midwives and doctors. Expectant mothers receive prenatal care and lactation advice, and are encouraged to arrive prior to their due date to await labor. They can choose to give birth in the Casa Materna or in the neighboring hospital. Food and housing is provided for them and a family member throughout their stay.

Sometimes patients require more complex care and must travel to specialized hospitals several hours away. PIH staff facilitate the whole process by scheduling appointments, traveling with them to offer additional medical counseling, and providing financial support as they receive the care they need.

PIH’s work in Mexico has strengthened entire communities, renewed people’s faith in the health system, and inspired a generation of young doctors and nurses to continue working in global health.