Hear my Voice: Understanding how community health workers in the Peruvian Amazon expanded their roles to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through Community-Based Participatory Action Research
AffiliationThe University of Arizona College of Medicine - Phoenix
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
DescriptionA Thesis submitted to The University of Arizona College of Medicine - Phoenix in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Medicine.
AbstractIntroduction: The COVID-19 pandemic led to the collapse of the Peruvian health system, which disrupted healthcare access for indigenous communities in the Amazon. We aimed to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the responsibilities of community health workers (CHWs) from indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon so policymakers can support indigenous health efforts. Methods: Fourteen CHWs from Loreto, Peru participated in a community-based Participatory Action Research (CBPR) project using Photovoice, a technique that encourages vulnerable groups to take photos and develop stories illustrating their lived experiences. Participants were recruited from Mamás del Río, a local university-based program, through purposive sampling. CHWs were trained in Photovoice and asked to photograph how the pandemic affected their lives and work. Participants met four times over five months to share photos and develop action items. Data were organized into key themes using a general inductive method. Final photos and action items were shared with policymakers during galleries in Iquitos and Lima. Results: CHWs took a total of 36 photos with 33 accompanying texts highlighting their roles during the pandemic. Four core themes emerged: (1) the collapse of social infrastructure, (2) the use of medicinal plants versus pharmaceuticals, (3) the community adaptations and struggles, and (4) the importance of CHWs. CHWs expanded their responsibilities or leveraged their leadership across these themes to support COVID-19 patients, vaccination, and mandates without training or resources from the government. CHWs asked policymakers for formal integration into the health system, standardization of CHW training, and better management of community pharmacies. Conclusion: CHWs, who work on a voluntary basis, took on additional roles during the pandemic with little to no training from the government. CHWs demonstrated how their roles could be better supported by the government to ameliorate future health catastrophes in the Peruvian Amazon.