Intercultural health research in Colombia

Intercultural medical researchers working with Arhuaco community health agents in northern Colombia

CIET supports the recovery and promotion of traditional indigenous knowledge in Colombia, and its articulation with western medicine, as a sound strategy for improving health outcomes among indigenous populations without further destroying their culture and environment.

In this context, CIET has collaborated with the Centro de Estudios Médicos Interculturales (CEMI), a non-governmental organization of Colombian medical practitioners advocating for intercultural health policies and practices. CEMI, in turn, is associated with the Study Group on Traditional Health Systems (GESTS) from the University of Rosario in Bogotá. In 2003, a representative of these entities participated actively in the Ottawa Colloquium on Ethics in Aboriginal Health Research.

CIET has partnered with CEMI and the indigenous health organization Dusakawi EPSI to strengthen the role of traditional Arhuaco healers (Mamos) in northern Colombia, support their dialogue with western science, and train Arhuaco community health agents.

Indigenous community health agents

We have joined our Colombian partners in an effort to train indigenous community health agents (gestores de salud comunitaria, in Spanish). This program aims to equip indigenous community leaders with tools for reviving and promoting traditional health knowledge and practices, recovering and preserving ancestral food production technologies, preserving the environment, and promoting community health.

A first cohort of 11 indigenous health agents successfully completed their training in 2005 and returned to work in their communities of the Colombian Amazon and the Vaupés region in southeastern Colombia. CIET supported the evaluation of this project. Another 17 health agents from across the country graduated in early 2007 and are now working in their places of origin.

The institutions running the project have provided training for indigenous health promoters working for the Arhuaco-managed health services, also known as Dusakawi EPSI, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in northern Colombia. CIET has provided technical support and some funding for a study of the health, cultural, and environmental situation in this region, which served as the evidence base for the design of this training.