By Blanca Lomeli
The year was 1985, and it started that summer. I was an intern with PCI in Tijuana and I got to be part of the initial training for the Well Baby Clinic (WBC). The concept was very simple: focus on prevention, focus on children under five years of age by ensuring they have access to basic, potentially life-saving measures. These included simple things such as:
- Immunizations against preventable childhood diseases
- Growth monitoring to detect nutrition and growth problems
- Promotion of breastfeeding
- Distribution of oral rehydration therapy
In the early years of the WBC, we struggled with the fact that about 25 percent of children registered experienced malnutrition. Malnutrition is often used to refer to undernutrition, where children don’t eat sufficient calories, protein or micronutrients. Malnutrition can have short term and long term effects, including physical and mental development, and a compromised immune system that allows frequent infections. Severe malnutrition meant that children were missing 30 percent or more of the ideal body weight for their age, which we combated by providing their families with supplemental food.
Now, in 2015, we’re celebrating 30 years of the project.
The program continues to this day in seven communities in Tijuana, where it all started. Once every month or every two months, depending on the community, volunteer community health workers set up a table to register children and provide health services. Some of these women have been volunteering their time from the beginning and some are new, as new communities have been added. We’ve even seen some of the children we served back then become parents, and bring their own children to the clinic.
The point I want to highlight is that a program like this is considered one of PCI’s “Legacy” programs because it represents the essence of what PCI is: A community-based organization working with locals to focus on prevention.
Some might ask: Why is PCI still in the community after 30 years? And the answer is simple: the need is still there.
More than 50 percent of people in Mexico live in poverty and, because of this and other social determinants, families face more challenges to stay healthy. Health issues in the communities have shifted and we’re finding obesity and diabetes to be more prevalent problems than underweight malnutrition. We continue to adapt our approach as needed to address the region’s evolving needs.
PCI’s WBC project is possible because of the contribution of many, including most importantly, the community volunteers and funders who support it.
Blanca is PCI’s Senior Technical Advisor for Local Capacity Strengthening