January 24, 2020 | Punta Cana, Dominican Republic | Libna Stevens/IAD

“If you think the role of the health promoter is about celebrating activities on World Health Day, presenting health nuggets each Sabbath, or holding health fairs or expos in the community once or twice a year, waiting for people to come to us, you’re wrong,” said Tricia Penniecook, MD, Dean for Education and Faculty Affairs and Associate Professor in the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida, in the United States. “Your role is to generate health in the community.”

Dr. Penniecook, who holds a Master of Public Health and has extensive experience in the field, addressed church administrators and health leaders during Inter-America’s Health Summit yesterday.  It’s not about what you may think that the community needs, she said, but about digging up data online.

The first step is to find out the causes of death in the country, she explained as she led the group to search online at the Pan American Health Organization’s webpage.

Dr. Tricia Penniecook,  Dean for Education and Faculty Affairs and Associate Professor in the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida, in the United States, speaks to health leaders during one of her seminars during day two of Inter-America’s Health Summit, Jan. 23, 2o2o, in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

“Causes of death give you an opportunity to find out what could be really affecting your country and your community. Is it cardiovascular problems? Is it a serious diarrhea problem in children?” asked Dr. Penniecook. You have to research so that you can effectively respond to that health need in the community in which you live. You can’t assume or plan a community impact for a group 45-year-old and older when the population with the greatest challenges is found in children.”

The group took a look at data from Guatemala which showed 17 percent of the population dies of circulatory problems, 12 percent of respiratory problems, 11 percent of neoplasm (or cancer), and 16 percent of other causes. Other countries like Mexico and Costa Rica showed higher percentages in those three of many categories.  Most showed half their country affected by chronic disease.

“There is no population that is not dying of anything. You have to look and target the need,” added Dr. Penniecook. There is always going to be work to do, she added.

Looking at the different age groups in the population will help in your research to find out more about your community, she explained.

Moisés Vidal, health ministries director for the church in Guatemala, was surprised to see the graph shown on the screen. “I was so taken-a-back by the fact that my country has so many specific needs that must be addressed,” said Vidal. Once he returns from the health summit, he plans to meet with his conference and mission health leaders to start researching more specific needs in communities around them and strategies to impact them.

Graph showing causes of death in Guatemala. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

“As a church we have a very wide range of action,” she said. One of the ways of measuring the state of health in a country is the literacy rate. “The person who don’t know how to read, and don’t have access to information that can help.”

Pastor Ricardo Marin, who is the executive secretary for the church in the South Central America overseeing Costa Rica and Nicaragua, was alarmed at the high rates of cardiovascular, cancer problems in Costa Rica and the literacy rates that still need to be addressed in some communities in Nicaragua. “In our union territory there are challenges with the medical service and the figures moves me to seriously research more clearly what are the most pressing needs and how we can mobilize our health professionals and health promoters to effect the necessary positive impact in the community,” said Marin.

“I know that we talk about the same initiatives in the community but it is evident that we must get to know the specific needs of our community, and connect with the government better about public health. If not we are shooting without aim,” said Marin. That vision Marin is planning to pass on to the more than 300 health professionals and hundreds of health promoters in October when he will gather them in two separate events to strengthen the health ministries impact effectively across Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Dr. Penniecook advised health leaders to join the community’s local health commission, its disaster commission, the waste management commission, and a public school that can have impact on children. “Encourage this generation to study public health, and get academic training, so that laws can be changed, and effective long-lasting impact can occur.”

It’s about getting members involved too, she said. Programs like “I Want To Be Healthy” which teaches the eight natural remedies to a healthy lifestyle can have lasting positive effects in generations to come, said Dr. Penniecook.  “Engage the church members who are in the third age to take part in such projects to impact the community, and to assist with children.”

“We must connect with the fabric in the local community,” said Dr. Penniecook. “If we lack compassion, love and grace, our health message will not help anyone.”

To view the online program on Inter-America’s Health Summit opening ceremony, Click HERE

To visit our photo gallery of the online event, Click HERE

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