Confronting Injustice by Providing Care in Chiapas

Published by PIHC on

Confronting Injustice by Providing Care in Chiapas

Cecilia Gálvez became a nurse to support her community in Chiapas, Mexico, but is now facing extreme challenges as violence escalates in the region

Posted June 17, 2024

A nurse feeds a newborn in the special care baby unit at PIH-supported Koidu Government Hospital where a team of doctors and nurses provide advanced, lifesaving care for premature and otherwise endangered babies. Photo by Caitlin Kleiboer / PIH.

Cecilia Gálvez has been a nurse with Compañeros En Salud, as Partners In Health is known locally in Mexico, for nine years. Although she’s overcome many challenges in her career leading to her becoming a nurse supervisor in 2020, this year has brought unique distress as Chiapas has become a stronghold for organized crime.  

After growing up in Salvador Urbina, a small community in the Frailesca region of Chiapas, Gálvez witnessed firsthand how challenging it was for her family and friends to access health care, given the remoteness of her community and cost of transportation—among other challenges. Unable to allow this injustice to continue, she decided she wanted to be a nurse and support her community.  

In 2014, the Mexican Ministry of Health built a clinic in Gálvez’s community, and Compañeros En Salud began working in the community as well. Compañeros En Salud has worked in the state of Chiapas since 2011 in partnership with the Ministry of Health.  

Gálvez began her work with Compañeros En Salud as an acompañante, or community health worker, and as a clinic assistant, where she learned to triage patients, make home visits to chronically ill people, classify medications in the pharmacy, and do sutures. While she was working, she began attending nursing school four hours away on the weekends. Despite the challenges, she never lost sight of her original inspiration—which continues to keep her going to this day.  

“My family and my community are the driving force to keep going, because [access to health care] is what I want for them,” Gálvez shares.

Photo by Asher Habinshuti / PIH

After graduating, she continued with Compañeros En Salud, working as a community nurse in the region where she was once a patient. Since 2020, she has been a clinical supervisor, mentoring nursing and medical interns doing their required year of social service at rural clinics.

Unfortunately, this year has pulled her home community into a state of conflict—impacting her family, friends, and patients. An increase in organized crime activity and instability in Chiapas have added extreme obstacles to the work of Compañeros En Salud. This year is also an election year in Mexico, which has added to the complexity of the situation.  Chiapas, the poorest state in the country, has been one of the worst-hit by these challenges.  

As rival groups continue to fight for control of the region, Gálvez and Compañeros En Salud refuse to abandon their community and patients. The work continues despite widespread worry.

“It has been difficult to work under this situation of insecurity because it is discouraging,” Gálvez says. “You can no longer work safely, knowing that at any moment your life could be taken away from you.

“There’s great uncertainty across society. You leave [home], but you don’t know if you’ll return,” she continues. “Before, I used to focus only on the problems with the health clinic team and the community. Now, I have to devote energy to monitoring my surroundings for a possible attack.”  

Despite this new fear, she remains committed to making life better for her patients as their nurse and neighbor.  

“[I would like to] improve the community’s access to health care services, also change the way they think about health risks, and [encourage them] to leave their comfort zone to improve habits and, in the end, their health,” she says.  

Gálvez has been working on how to take care of herself during this time as well. Leaning on her community, and enforcing healthy habits, has helped her manage the stress caused by ongoing violence and instability.

“Going for walks and eating healthy has helped me feel better,” Gálvez shares. “Also, having a support network of family and friends means I can feel more collective support and also take quality time for myself.”

As a nurse, Gálvez knows the value of protecting your health and that of your community. Bravely, she continues to show up every day for her patients and colleagues at Compañeros En Salud. 

Originally published on pih.org

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