Juana’s Encounter in the Field

Meal-a-Day Partner DESEA’s Community Health Worker Saves Choking Baby

For qhali (community health worker) Juana Puclla Puma, the day started out like any other: morning chores, cooking breakfast, and getting her older children off to school, and the younger ones fed. When all this was done she set out with her newborn and toddler to move the animals to a higher pasture.

Juana is a qhali, a local woman selected by her tribe to be trained by DESEA in simple practical nursing techniques. She comes to the remote and widely dispersed homes of the tribe, and is especially focused on pregnant women, new born babies and nursing moms, but will help with any situations she encounters among her people. Doctors and hospitals are many hours away, don’t speak their tribal language, and are very expensive for these people, so the presence of the qhali on a regular schedule is vital. Also, they have been able to change a tribal custom of exposing the babies for the first 24 hours after birth, based on the belief that those which survive are strong enough to face the trials of life. With the help of the qhalis, infant and early childhood deaths have dropped significantly.

As Juana approached the highest ridge in her grazing area, she encountered her neighbour and stopped to visit and share some potatoes. During their visit, the neighbour’s infant reached for some potatoes, popped them in his mouth, and at once began to choke. Very quickly, this pleasant pastoral scene turned into an emergency. The infant rapidly turned blue and became unresponsive. Juana reacted instantly, using the skills she had learned through her work as a DESEA qhali. She delivered five strong back blows and, when these blows did not dislodge the potato pieces, she turned the infant over and began a series of chest compressions. The infant coughed out the potatoes, began to cry, and Juana returned the infant to the arms of her overwhelmed neighbour. A poignant example of being “in the right place at the right time”, this event clearly could have had a disastrous outcome had Juana not been with her neighbour at the exact moment that her son started to choke.

Juana practices infant CPR...a technique that helped save an infant’s life!

Juana practices infant CPR…a technique that helped save an infant’s life!

DESEA believes one of the crucial factors for improving health outcomes in remote Andean communities is through community-based healthcare training. All DESEA Peru qhalis are now trained as first responders for their communities. As well, DESEA has just delivered two-day, basic first-aid training courses for interested residents in all project communities.

Meal-a-Day funds a significant portion of DESEA’s work, allowing them to expand into new tribal areas. DESEA also provides water filtration systems to homes and schools, reducing the incidence of dysentery so children are healthier, more likely to attend school regularly and to learn more effectively.