A Guatemalan woman speaks with other women.
Karen Rodas is a certified rural health technician who trains community members in basic health skills.

Catholics Plan Medical Relief in Guatemala

The Catholic Church is the world’s largest nongovernment provider of health care services — providing a particularly important option for poor families living in the developing world. In his message on World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis described those who are sick as “the center of God’s people and the Church advances together with them as a sign of humanity.”

One of the latest examples of the Church’s medical mercy can be found in the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu in southwestern Guatemala. There, U.S. Catholics have supported a campaign that includes plans to build and/or renovate and equip two health clinics in rural villages.

This new health initiative is part of a large-scale effort to fight poverty and strengthen families through integral human development, a Church-based approach that addresses the material and spiritual needs of individuals and entire communities.

The Backstory: Health Care Needs in Rural Guatemala

Step One: Survey Medical Needs With a Health Census

Two Guatemalan women and two children outside a makeshift home.
Sylvia Morales (left) lost her husband, Marlo, to kidney disease two years ago. Like many in her village, Sylvia’s family relies on herbal remedies because they cannot afford modern-day medical care.

Building, staffing and operating two rural health clinics is a complex process that requires significant planning. The first step involves assessing the specific medical needs families face in Guatemala’s Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu.

With the financial support of U.S. Catholics, the local Caritas ministry was able to conduct a health assessment, visiting families door-to-door to determine the most common illnesses within the nine villages this program will serve. This detailed health study revealed that more than 15 percent of households had at least one member who experienced the following ailments since 2022:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Respiratory infections.
  • Waterborne and foodborne illnesses.
  • Diabetes.
  • Headaches.
  • Back pain.
  • Intestinal infections.
  • Mosquito-borne illnesses.
  • Gout.
  • Kidney failure.

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Step Two: Train Local Health Promoters

Three Guatemalan women and a boy talk while standing in a rural village.
Delmi (second from left) visits community members to discuss health topics.

The health census made it clear that we simply can’t afford to wait to address the pressing medical needs families are experiencing. According to Karen Rodas, health technician and coordinator, local families in the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu don’t have access to doctors or other medically trained personnel — and this prevents people from being proactive about their health. Often, individuals wait until their health conditions are serious before seeking professional care because the cost of transportation to distant clinics and hospitals is beyond what many can afford. Others rely on local healers and “witch doctors” who offer unproven herbal remedies and treatments.

As a certified rural health technician, Karen is addressing the immediate need for health care by training community members to become local health promoters. This three-year training program will equip men and women with basic medical skills that they will then teach others in their villages. So far, initial training has included:

  • First aid.
  • Nutrition basics.
  • Workplace and home safety.
  • Natural family planning and reproductive health (in accordance with Church teachings).
  • Wound care.
  • Insect and snake bites.
  • Food poisoning.

Delmi Garcia, 23, is one of the health promoters who is enrolled in Caritas’ three-year training program.

“We don’t have anyone to help us in the community, and we want to be the ones to step in and provide help,” she said.

The training includes homework, such as locating a pregnant woman in the community and providing her with folic acid tablets that can help her baby’s developing brain. The goal of such assignments is to help the health promoters build strong relationships within their villages and practice educating others.

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Step Three: Begin Plans for New Health Clinics

A Guatemalan family inside a makeshift home.
Deini and Nilson with their son, Mario. The little boy often suffers from fungal infections.

While still in the early stages, important initial planning is complete thanks to the support of generous U.S. Catholics. The current plan is to build one centrally located community clinic in the village of Linea B-12 and renovate another clinic, also centrally located, in the village of Japón Nacional B.

One of the people looking forward to having a reliable local health clinic in his village is Nilson Alvarez of Japón Nacional B. As a father, he prays every day for his family’s health, especially for his 3-year-old son, Mario. The little boy has dealt with recurrent fungal infections on his feet, and without proper care the situation would only get worse.

Empowered by the campaign, the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu will be able to address the health needs of children like Mario and many others who need medical screenings, preventive health education and treatment. The goal is for the two medical clinics to be staffed by professional clinicians to address issues such as hypertension, respiratory infections and other medical problems that frequently plague the poor. When necessary, the clinics will also be able to refer and transport patients to larger hospitals for advanced care.

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Catholics Are Sharing Health and Healing in Guatemala

A Guatemalan boy has his height measured.
Keilor Davila’s height and weight are monitored at a food distribution event in Japón Nacional B, one of the communities that has been tentatively selected for the construction of a health clinic.

During his earthly life, Jesus showed an intense compassion for the sick and performed many miracles of healing. Today, the Catholic Church continues this legacy through the hard work of medical missions in developing countries such as Guatemala. There is still much more work to be done to make these two health clinics a reality for families in the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu.

Cross Catholic Outreach is honored to work with U.S. Catholics who are inspired to honor our Divine Physician by meeting the medical needs of the poor. This generosity has empowered the local Caritas ministry to better understand health needs, train community members, and map out a long-term vision that will help improve health care. These initial efforts are critically important to laying the groundwork for health, healing and hope delivered in the name of Jesus Christ!

Donations from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2024, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.