This Field Note is brought to you by Simply Smiles Senior Program Manager Zach Gross, who recently returned from our Mexico projects, where we held our third medical testing and fifth treatment of parasitic intestinal worms.
On November 9, I returned home from a fantastic week in Oaxaca, Mexico working with our Mexican staff members and a team of volunteers to carry out our latest medical clinic to treat for intestinal parasites.
I am pleased to report that our latest round of testing shows that the infection rate is now at 20% across this region—down from 48% just two years ago!
Over the course of three days, 2,173 people from the remote villages of southern Oaxaca came to our food distribution in the town of Santa María Tepexipana and received a month’s supply of food staples. Everyone (except children under age two and nursing or pregnant women) also received a dose of albendazole, which rids the body of intestinal worms and their eggs.
Our method of collecting demographic and qualitative information from participating families allows us to target areas with the highest incidence of intestinal parasites.
The infection rate on our final day of testing was 0%—meaning there were no positive samples among children in those villages.
These latest results are certainly encouraging, and they prove that our multifaceted public health initiative is having a directly positive impact on the health of children and families in Oaxaca.
But we still have work to do. A 20% infection rate is not 10%, which the World Health Organization deems the level at which treatment can occur on a case-by-case basis. And it’s not an overall rate of 0% — which is our ultimate goal, so that soil-transmitted intestinal worms are no longer a reality for families in the region.
Until that time, we will continue to treat the entire population. We will also continue working with the local schools to implement health programs, passing out informational literature on methods of prevention, and building more latrines and hand-washing stations—particularly in villages with the highest infection rates.
While the test results are a reliable, scientific method of measuring the impact of this public health initiative, other, more “subjective” methods are perhaps more telling of our overall impact in this region.
As soon as we first visited this remote part of Oaxaca in 2009, we saw the distended bellies, vacant stares, and malnutrition spots — all signs that intestinal parasites were plaguing the children and families there.
Rather than coming in as outsiders with microscopes and pills, we knew that in order to have long-term success in this region, we needed to form friendships first.
We needed to build trust and prove ourselves worthy of that trust and friendship through our actions. Because of these foundational relationships, we can continue to effectively implement all of our initiatives and measure their effectiveness,
Over the past few weeks, we have collected responses from various supporters and friends at our project sites about what Simply Smiles means to them. We asked our friend, Matea Figeuroa Santiaguez, from Santa María to explain how she sees Simply Smiles. She made note of our “humanitarian support,” referring specifically to the our distributions and school construction, but she really focused on the relationships she’s made with Simply Smiles staff and volunteers over the years—on the people behind the projects.
The willingness of our volunteers to give up a week of their lives to spend time in Mexico and on the Reservation will never cease to amaze me. Our volunteers are the hands that distribute food & medicine and build latrines in Mexico, but they are also the encouraging role models and friendly faces that solidify the Simply Smiles dignity-first, relationship-based philosophy.