Re-imagining Public Health Work in Shipibo Communities

Our German Holistic Health Specialist, Nine Uhlich, reflects on the past 7 weeks of public health treatments and education in the communities of Santa Clara, Bena Jema, and Paohyan. This is the second year Nine and Carolina, a specialist in Shipibo traditional plant based medicine, have worked together providing treatment and health education to Shipibo communities.

Both women agreed that this year was a huge success. They treated 95 patients in the community of Paohyan and 120 patients in the communities of Bena Jema and Santa Clara.The healers also provided holistic medicines to everyone in the three communities to treat parasites, reaching over 1,300 peoples. Nine remarked how in addition to setting up a clinic, her and Carolina went from home to home in order to reach all members of the community. They also went to schools and other public places to provide parasite treatment.

“Carolina and I got to know each other much better this year, and built trust with each other which has made it easier to solve problems” said Nine. The first year, Nine and Carolina spent time getting to know each other and observe the different work styles and cultural propensities that become apparent when you put a German woman and a Shipibo woman together. Nine reflected pensively, “Even though there were difficulties in communication, slowly but surely we came together and learned how each of us worked.”

We asked Nine how this year of treatments compared to the first year of treatment and she told us, “we have not observed much of a difference in the illnesses, they are more or less the same. People here are overworked, nutrition is poor, and the climate is damp, which creates chronic illnesses such as rheumatism and arthritis.”

Similar to last year, the women treated patients with headaches, back pain, arthritis, gastritis, diabetes, urinary tract infections, and more. Nine said, “this year, being more familiar with the work has made it easier to educate patients. People in the communities wanted the health clinic to continue after last year, and many people came looking for Carolina to ask if the health clinic was still working. People are really interested. And when you get to teaching them about how to make plant remedies for themselves, their eyes light up!”

“We tell the patients, ‘You see you can take this medicine its very easy, all you have to do is go out and find the plants.’ And suddenly you see their eyes widen, and they ask for a piece of paper to write everything down.” Nine recounts how patients have an immense amount of interest to learn about traditional plant based remedies and when Carolina gives them the information they need, they really do make these remedies for themselves.

“The idea is that patients come once, learn how to make the remedy for their illness and learn about the diet needed to sustain a healthy lifestyle.”

Most Shipibos try to access western medicine when they are ill. They get pills, antibiotics, shots, which cures them for a while until they get sick again.

Most Shipibo peoples in these communities do not practice traditional medicine, and the elders are usually the only people in the communities that know about traditional plant based medicine. However, when the patients of all ages see Carolina with the plant medicine, they want to know how to do it themselves.

This year, Nine and Carolina spent time in the community of Paohyan which is about 5 hours away from Yarinacocha in a fast boat.

“Paohyan is more rural and the people live in a more natural surrounding like how they used to live. We met a lot of hunters and fishermen, that all had their own fields and are more connected to the traditional ways of living”

With that Nine remarked, that there was much interest to learning how to use their rich biodiversity to cure chronic illness and reduce the dependence on western medicine that is simply financially unrealistic for most peoples.

Next year, Nine and Carolina are committed to working in Santa Clara and Paohyan. These communities expressed interest in having the health clinic return next year and were the most receptive to the educational component of treatment that Nine and Carolina delivered. The healers are also thinking of leaving Bena Jema to work in another community with less access to health care and resources.

As Nine finished reflecting on the past 7 weeks, she said “This year brought deeper access to the Shipibo people and through our sustained relationship with the community, we really understand what the peoples suffer from.”

We are looking forward to supporting another year of work with the Mobile Health Clinic and encourage anyone to donate any sort of support to continue the unique work that is being done to reimagine public health.  

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