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Dear friends of EPES and AHA,
I don’t know about you, but lately it seems to me that the news is just one disaster after another, whether it be an earthquake, a flood, a tornado, a forest fire or a volcanic eruption. And that’s just the natural disasters, never mind the social ones we humans wreak with our greedy strivings. With the election of billionaire Sebastián Piñera as president, things look particularly bleak in Chile. There is widespread anxiety about what it will mean for health policy nationally, for funding for local efforts that have been so crucial to EPES’ work, and in general for Chilean society, already one of the most unequal on the planet. While Chile’s macroeconomic indicators look favorable, they mask huge income gaps within Chilean society; e.g., the top 1% bring in more than 30% of GDP, the top 10% more than 75%. And these gaps are reflected in health disparities.
The communities where EPES works have a heavy disease burden, compounded by the insecurity brought on by the increasing presence of drug trafficking and violence. When all this starts to overwhelm me, learning about EPES’ latest activities never fails to revive my spirits. When I was in Chile in March, I was honoured with an invitation to dinner during EPES’ annual planning retreat and had a chance to witness some of their discussions. I was literally moved to tears by the team’s dedication and passion, evident in every word and gesture.
This January saw the ninth delivery of the Escuela, EPES’ International Course on Popular Education in Health. There are now 167 graduates from 21 countries! I was particularly moved to learn of the participation of three women from Puerto Rico who are applying the EPES model in their work of recovery and community building in the aftermath of Hurricane María. With hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans still without power six months after the disaster, such work is vital.
Also in January, EPES provided Health Ministry primary care staff with training on participatory community strategies for health, part of an ongoing series of workshops through which EPES helps Chile’s health workforce develop essential competencies for working with communities.
When forest fires engulfed thousands of homes in Valparaiso in 2014, EPES was right there, one of the first organizations to respond to the emergency. EPES continues to demonstrate that it is in it for the long haul. This Update shares details of a fire prevention project in the Las Cañas community of Valparaiso, aimed at reducing vulnerability to fires by building public awareness and community capacity for fire prevention, control and management.
Other articles in this Update describe health group priority setting, EPES’ ongoing work on nutrition and food security, international influence, and the launch of a short video celebrating EPES’ 35 years working for health, dignity and justice in Chile.
The late Tommy Douglas once said, “Courage, my friends. ‘Tis not too late to build a better world.” Let us all take courage from EPES’ example. And thank you so, so much for all you do to support EPES in continuing to build that better world.
Christina Mills MD FRCPC
President, Action for Health in the Americas