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Katerin (left) discusses her pregnancy with Community Health Worker Hilda Valdivia in Carabayllo, Peru.
Photo by Josue Quesnay Gomez / Partners In Health

Dr. Jim Yong Kim thought Peru had tuberculosis well under control when he traveled there in the mid-1990s. After all, physicians were following internationally accepted standards for how best to treat the highly infectious, airborne disease.

But then Kim, a Partners In Health co-founder, lost a good friend who was living and working in Carabayllo, slums north of the capital of Lima. Tests revealed that the friend had caught a form of TB that was resistant to the most common antibiotics.

That begged the question: How many other people living in the cramped, poorly ventilated shacks had multidrug-resistant TB?

Socios En Salud, as PIH is known in Peru, grew out of the desire to answer that question. Staff began actively searching for MDR-TB cases and treating patients by the dozens. Community health workers were key to that success, visiting patients’ homes twice daily for up to two years to ensure they took their medication.  

Over the past two decades since, we have treated more than 10,500 people in Peru and achieved cure rates of 75 percent—among the highest in the world. Our success fighting drug-resistant TB has led to major changes in national and global health policies, and challenged the widely accepted idea that TB is too expensive and complicated to treat in poor communities. Today, we conduct cutting-edge TB research in Peru and continue PIH’s legacy for finding innovative ways to treat an ancient disease.

Beyond TB, our team is focused on ensuring the next generations of Carabayllo families grow up strong and healthy. We provide nutritional counseling for expectant mothers, discuss the values of breastfeeding, and teach residents new recipes that call for locally available produce. We also screen mothers for depression, anxiety, and domestic abuse, then connect them with care at local clinics and hospitals.

Our staff identify children 2 years and under for developmental delays, then welcome them and their caretakers to sessions where they work together to improve physical, linguistic, and social skills through play.

Our safe house for women living with schizophrenia was the first in the nation and is home to patients who are medically stable, but lack the skills to live independently. Our staff teach residents basic skills and encourage them to further their education or develop career goals. Our model has been so successful that the Ministry of Health announced it would expand safe houses across the country.

We arrived in Peru to battle the toughest forms of TB, and we stay at the request of the government to continue finding gaps in care and providing innovative solutions to help improve the health system.