Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
In rural areas of the Colombia, quality of life indicators are lagging. Years of internal conflict due to paramilitary and narco-trafficking activity have these areas disconnected and struggling to cover their basic needs. Other communities are simply so remote that they are difficult to reach and remain outside purvey of government services. There are particularly worrying health statistics in these areas: high fertility rates, high infant and maternal mortality rates, low life expectancy, and high levels of malnutrition. This is in part due to lack of access to basic services such as potable water, electricity, and proper waste management which creates a less than ideal environment for a healthy population.
As far as capacity to deal with these health issues, there is not only a lack of infrastructure, but also a lack of human resources. In 2012, Colombia’s most developed cities had about 325 physicians per 100,000 people. In contrast, rural and remote areas had only about 50 medical professionals per 100,000 people. Furthermore, many residents in these parts of the country are of an indigenous background, with cultural practices that include traditional medicine as the primary means of health care.
Any outside intervention attempting to reach these communities or anyone from the communities trying to access outside resources faces several challenges. First, the locations of the communities might be topographically difficult to travel through due to rivers, jungle, and lack of roads. Second, armed groups are still present in or even governing some areas. Third, there is scattered or nonexistent state healthcare in rural parts of the country, meaning that the distance to reach or distribute resources more concentrated in cities can be quite far. Finally, the methods of these state healthcare providers that do exist are often not appropriate for the populations needing care – meaning they are not equipped to physically to reach the patients needing care, are not culturally suitable to the patients, or are slow and inefficient due to corruption and inefficient management.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Camilo Arjona and Alas Para la Gente (Wings for the People) are using highly effective, wide-scale medical brigades to enter rural, isolated communities in Colombia and introduce an array of allies that can support the residents in their economic and social recovery and or development. By using healthcare, a topic that most everyone can get behind, as a point of entry, he brings allies ranging from the government to the country’s top media to private companies and foundations to the table to pitch in with their respective resources. The communities’ healthcare needs are met while the Alas partners, in turn, are exposed to both the needs and assets of these areas.
Camilo, combining his talents as a pilot and a publicist with his deep-seeded social commitment, began Alas after participating in small-scale medical brigades and seeing the extent of the problem of rural communities without access to healthcare or other public infrastructure. He started Alas to be a resource-aggregator to provide large-scale medical professionals and supplies to off-the-grid communities. As his strategy developed, he saw the brigades as a tool for introducing these communities, often formerly or currently governed by paramilitary forces, to the entities that can assist them in overcoming their situation. Brigades of 35 medical specialists and tons of medicine and other supplies are collected and transported to these remote areas, thanks to the support of Alas’s many allies and based on a plan developed by the communities themselves. Then, the volunteers, partner organizations, and the public at large “meet” the communities and learn about their culture, economic poverty, and/or cultural and environmental wealth through strong media partnerships. As a result, perceptions about the communities are changing – they are not only seen as forgotten or abandoned conflict zones, but become personalized and even valued. In turn, the communities (and their leadership, regardless of politics), are meeting partners that can help improve their quality of life.
What began as a way to identify the needs of rural communities excluded from healthcare, channel the appropriate resources their way, and ultimately permanently fill the gaps in the healthcare system is just the beginning of the change Camilo is instigating. First, he recognizes that his infrequent medical brigades are not enough to sustain communities until the government steps in, so he is working on setting up Telemedicine Kiosks in the communities to provide more continuous access to care. Not only has the Ministry of Health and Protection begun to use Alas as tool to non-contentiously arrive in these communities, but also to survey the possibilities of further post-conflict intervention that extend beyond healthcare. After each brigade, Camilo issues a report card to local and national governments that can then be used to understand the local social situation. Camilo’s reputation has already made Alas a partner in the government’s post-conflict recovery plan, and other allies are taking his model beyond Colombia to Central America.