Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Visit to the University

On Tuesday Ilona came round bright and early and we headed off in a kombi to La Catolica university. Though she speaks excellent English, her Spanish is rather rudimentary, so as well as getting interesting information, I would be a significant help to her in her various meetings.

A week or two previously, Ilona had been to the university with the idea of seeing whether they could help with social programmes in Villa Ecologica. She bailed up the rector, who referred her to a woman named (as it transpired) señora Angelica in the multidisciplinary Department of Social Projects. When we arrived, Ilona admitted that she didn't know the name of the person, position, or department we were looking for, but that it was "round about here", as we climbed stairways, crossed courtyards and walked down corridors.

Ultimately we did happen upon the right office and person, entering while a meeting was in progress. The señora Angelica broke off to talk to us. Ilona had told me that the university's response had been quite positive when she suggested a health campaign for Villa Ecologica, and she was hopeful that something would happen soon. But when we spoke to the profesora, she explained the situation more clearly.

In order for la Catolica to undertake a health campaign, it had to receive a formal request from a public organization, preferably the municipality. It could not run a campaign simply because we thought it was a good idea; nor could they take a request from an NGO or even from the Villa Ecologica community association itself.

She said that the day after Ilona's visit, they had rung the Selva Alegre council offices to see whether they would put in a formal request for a health campaign. By mistake, they had rung the offices of the municipality of Socabaya - another poor, outlying area. The Socabaya council had been enthusiastic, and in fact their letter requesting a health campaign promptly arrived the next day.

Later, they had tried to ring Selva Alegre again, and had been put through to the Public Relations department, who had said yes, they would pass the message on regarding a possible health campaign. A week and a half later, no further word had been received from Selva Alegre.

The señora Angelica explained that there were two types of campaigns run by the university. The smaller, "focussed" campaigns were run Mondays to Fridays, and included paediatrics, general practice and dentistry / oral health. "Integrated" campaigns were run on Sundays, and included all specialities. In answer to my confession of ignorance, she explained that campaigns consisted in medical assessments, ordering of appropriate treatments or vaccines, and health education and promotion.

I asked what was the role of the Ministry of Health in ensuring primary and preventive health services to poor communities, and she said that the Ministry was limited to providing vaccines.

For an integrated campaign, said Angelica, it was necessary to have at least 2,000 families. This seemed to me to be a rather arbitrary figure, given that we had just told her that there were about 1,500 families in Villa Ecologica. But nothing at all could happen, she reminded us, until they got a formal request from the municipality.

Ilona seemed a bit frustrated that things weren't moving quite as fast as she'd hoped. I told her that such hoops to jump through were only to be expected; not only was this how things worked in Peru, it was typical of all bureaucracies. The only thing for it was to go and hassle the municipality to write their letter of request.

So we headed off in a taxi, with the intention of trying to talk to the mayor of Selva Alegre.

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