Costa Rican health program extolled by U.N. agency

November 13, 2009

GUATEMALA CITY – Brazilian corruption busters, a “comfort-food” startup by California-based Mexicans and a Costa Rican doctor who treats Panamanian indigenous people won the top three awards Friday at the Fifth Social Innovation Fair at this Central American capital´s San Carlos University.

The winners – earning $30,000, $20,000 and $15,000 respectively from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation – demonstrated to the United Nations´ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) that their projects are highly innovative, sustainable, cost efficient, replicable and have made the greatest impact of the 13 programs presented, said Nohra Rey, spokeswoman for the ECLAC committee of judges.

This year´s finalists included Costa Rica´s first-ever participant among approximately 4,800 social development programs from countries across Latin America and the Caribbean that have been presented in the five editions of the fair.

Costa Rica´s Integral Health Care for the Highly Mobile Indigenous Population is a “pioneer initiative,” ECLAC said, in that it is a publicly funded project that attends to a group whose medical needs were previously unmet. Most other projects in the fair are grassroots, community-based efforts or initiatives of nongovernmental organizations.

Spearheaded by Dr. Pablo Ortiz and based in the Southern Zone canton of Coto Brus, the project is designed to help the Ngöbe community that travels back and forth each year from Panama to this Costa Rican coffee growing region. The migrant population has tripled in the past four years, reaching 13,600 for the 2008 coffee harvest, Dr. Ortiz told The Tico Times.

He said his project has helped almost halve the region´s infant mortality rate – once among the country´s highest – from 17.2 deaths per thousand live births in 2001 to 9.2 in 2007.

Dr. Otriz said illness and emergency treatment also have decreased dramatically since the inception of the project, which includes greater preventive care and health education. He said the program not only can be applied in other regions of Costa Rica, but can be easily replicated in other countries as well.

This year´s top winner at the fair in Guatemala was the Social Observatory of Maringá, a grassroots, nonpartisan organization that supervises public spending by southern Brazil´s Maringá Municipality. Second place went to the Bi-National Remittances Investment project, which has enabled a community in southern Mexico´s Oaxaca to reinvest money sent down from family members working in the United States into a company that produces “nostalgic food” for migrant workers.

See the Nov. 20 print or digital edition of The Tico Times for more on this story.

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