Peer education in response to a demand from people affected by Chagas disease
“I saw that there was a real need to inquire more about forms of IEC (Information, Education and Communication) in the subject of Chagas; it is a real need, not a demagogy”. This is how Evelyn Wendy Pardo Flores, a nurse from Cochabamba, Bolivia, who has a master’s degree in public and international health from the Postgraduate Curse in Tropical Medicine (Universidad Mayor de San Simón, public university), begins to answer the questions of our interview.
Her research topic has tried to respond to a social demand in Chagas disease coming from inhabitants of the High Valley region of Cochabamba: they have expressed a concern about how to increase knowledge about Chagas as an essential step to improve access of care for people affected by this unattended and high prevalence disease in Bolivia.
Evelyn focused on testing a communication model based on the peer education strategy (meaning teaching or sharing health information, values and behavior in educating others who may come from similar social backgrounds or life experiences), and she did it with patients treated in the Chagas Platform’s center of Punata, High Valley’s capital, located 45 km away from the city of Cochabamba.
Her work has been framed in the InSPIRES project, that is performed in Bolivia by the CEADES Foundation (Science and Applied Studies for Development in Health and Environment. The project wants to link academic actors (UMSS University) and researchers to social actors in order to respond to needs expressed by the community.
«Why did you choose this research topic, how did it attracted you?», we ask Evelyn. She tells us about the moment and the person that arose her interest in Chagas and participative research, who later accompanied her as tutor: “Dr. Claire Billot had given us a class, I remember, about the social demand that exists in relation to the various diseases that prevail in our environment and one of the quests that caught my attention was to find out how to better inform people about Chagas disease”.
Collecting social demands in Chagas was a task conducted by CEADES researchers in October 2017, in Punata. This region is known for being one of the most affected by Chagas disease in Bolivia. These social needs were later converted into scientific questions and proposed as research topics to academic spaces, researchers, among others, the Postgraduate course in Tropical Medicine.
Evelyn acknowledges that this kind of research process has required a lot of commitment, but she feels very satisfied with the results. “A postgraduate thesis is another level, there is a greater intellectual demand, it is a process that requires a careful preparation. Then comes the field work, the writing of the results, the defense of the thesis in front of a court and, after that, to give back the results to the community, and finally, the preparation of a scientific article for publication.”
“What was the most challenging issue?”, we ask Evelyn. She answers: «To find an education method that could be appropriate to the sociocultural level of the Punata people… appropriate to their sociocultural context, a method that responds to their real needs».
Afterwards, the results were communicated to the people that formulated the demand, as well as to Punata’s hospital health staff, students and UMSS researchers. Finally, the experience was translated into a scientific article, which shows that the same patients (who had accessed the diagnosis and treatment of Chagas disease) are the best informants about their disease inside their family circle and beyond: they can positively influence their environment to request medical attention for this disease that does not give symptoms in its early stages, when it is still treatable. They only need a brief training, encouragement and support to devote time to their community, to inform and educate about this life-threatening disease that affects them.
The paper is in the process of being published in the Bolivian Medical Gazette, of national circulation, which will allow disseminating the strategy in professional fields. We hope that other nurses and nursing teachers, will take this initiative and put it into practice.
“And now, what interests you in your professional future?”, we ask Evelyn. She answers without hesitation: “My biggest professional dream is to continue doing research, better if it is in public health and attending to real social needs”.