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Mateus- Community Health Worker, Hero or Both?

April 5, 2013

Dr Lee Morris, a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases, worked with Gorongosa’s Ecohealth team for 3 weeks in March as part of a partnership with the Mt. Sinai Global Health Center in New York, who regularly sends students, doctors and faculty members to Gorongosa. Lee describes her experience during a routine mobile clinic, which the Ecohealth program carries out every Wednesday with providers from the local government hospital.


Early Wednesday morning we picked up the mobile clinic team at Vila de Gorongosa Hospital and travelled with four nurses in the backseat and another six in the truck bed plus all of our medical supplies for the day.  We started the beautiful but long drive through the bush towards Mount Gorongosa to the Nhankuco community where the Ecohealth mobile clinic was to be held that day.  Despite our amazing and talented driver, Mr. Erasmo, we bumped and bruised our way up to a beautiful clearing under tall trees providing all the shade we could want.  The community had chosen this spot and cleared the brush to make it spotless and an ideal place to set up the monthly Ecohealth mobile clinic.  By the time we had finished setting up, there were hundreds of community members waiting patiently for us to begin.


The clinic ran smoothly, providing vaccination services to women and children, HIV counseling and testing, health education, acute care services, family planning services and services for pre and post natal care and dentistry.  The Community Health Workers (APEs) and traditional birth attendants from the community were present helping in every way they could by providing translation in the local dialect, providing health education, weighing children and dispensing medications prescribed by providers.  In total, nearly 500 women, children and adults received needed services in one day.

Photo: Health education taking place during mobile clinic set up in the Mount Gorongosa community of Nhankuco.


As the mobile clinic began to wind down, a phenomenal APE, Mateus Zaeta Braga, invited us to accompany him to his home just a “short” distance away.  Of course, we were honored to be invited and gladly accepted the invitation.  We walked for thirty minutes through tall grasses, fields and crops with beautiful views of the valley below but this was no easy walk, nor was it a short distance.  It was striking to see firsthand the paths Mateus and other APEs have to take to be able to provide health education and health care to hundreds of members of their community every day.  Mateus visits wells in the community and talks about the importance of clean water, he visits churches to give talks about HIV prevention and family planning. At the community market he talks to community members about environmental conservation practices. The distances he must travel and the time he dedicates to helping others in his community is truly inspiring. 


We arrived at Mateus’ home, his wife was sitting with some friends by a fire and his children played in their yard.  He has a beautiful home and gave us a tour of the latrine and bathing structures that he built and the setup he has to responsibly handle trash. Finally, he showed us his crops (corn, sorghum, pineapples, avocado, papaya), which he explained were planted using conservation agriculture techniques, an environmentally friendly method of farming to prevent slash and burn agriculture.  He picked one of his pineapples and cut it up on the spot for all of us to share, and it was one of the most delicious fruits I have ever tasted.   Finally, it was time to return to the mobile clinic.  On our way back, Mateus would stop and pick avocados and corn from his many crops to distribute and share with all the providers at the mobile clinic to thank them for coming to this remote community (20km away).  The day was amazing and it was refreshing to see the extreme dedication Mateus has to his community and to providing health education and care to its members.

Photo: Dr. Lee Morris, Nurse Balbino Maquina, APE Mateus Braga and Dr. Dina Romo visiting Mateus's house (left to right).


Thank you to USAID Mozambique for their support of the Ecohealth project and incredible people like Mateus.


By Dr. Lee Morris              


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