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Chile: Chilean Red Cross and ICRC provide medical services in rural south

14-09-2007 Interview

Since the start of 2007, the Chilean Red Cross has been working together with the ICRC to provide basic health-care for vulnerable rural communities in the Araucanía region of southern Chile. Michel Minnig, ICRC regional delegate for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, explains what the work involves.

©CICR / Oscar Obreque Torres 
Chilean Red Cross mobile dental clinic. The clinic has been providing services to rural communities for eight years. Services have now been expanded to include other types of medical treatment. 

  Michel Minnig.    
     What aspects of Chilean Red Cross work has the ICRC been helping with?  

We have been helping the National Society provide community health-care in Chile’s Ninth Region, also known as Araucanía. The aim is to provide basic health services for communities a long way from urban centres, for whom travel is difficult. The work is divided into three phases.

In the first phase, volunteers from the Chilean Red Cross teach basic first aid during workshops that cover both theory and practice. Then we provide basic medical supplies and a manual in Spanish and in Maupudungun, the language of the Mapuche who form the majority group in this area. The aim is that members of the community be able to treat fractures and other forms of trauma.

During the second phase, we conduct rural health operations, providing curative and preventive care. These operations involve a team from the Araucanía regional committee of the Chilean Red Cross visiting the communities, after having agreed dates and venues with the local authorities. So far we have conducted four operations, in the communities of Freire, Ercilla, Traiguén and Lumaco. We are thinking of running one more operation this year, in Villarrica.

During these trips, Red Cross doctors identify the most common illnesses. That information is used in the third phase, which involves giving presentations on how to prevent specific illnesses and how to look after oneself.

  Red Cross health project, 2007:
  In the 12 communities covered,   164 people were given first-aid training and   254 received medical treatment.    

 What form does the ICRC’s support take?  

Our support forms part of the ICRC’s joint work with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies all over the world. We have stepped up our joint activities in the Araucanía region during 2007, and our help takes the form of supplies, logistics support and advice. As a result, the Chilean Red Cross has been better able to meet health needs in the area.

 How did this project originate, and why did the ICRC decide to get involved?  

About eight years ago, the Chilean Red Cross launched a programme that could be considered the ‘ancestor’ of the current, major p roject: a mobile dental clinic. Given the health needs in the region, the ICRC thought it would be a good idea to get involved in this work, increasing its scale and expanding its scope to take in other medical specialisms. The result has been that since April the Red Cross has been helping more of these vulnerable communities and providing a more comprehensive medical service. So now, in addition to dental care, we provide general medical treatment, record blood groups, measure blood pressure and issue medicines free of charge on prescription.

 Apart from working with the Chilean Red Cross, what is the ICRC doing in Chile?  

Currently, the ICRC is working on integrating international humanitarian law (also known as the law of armed combat) into the teaching, doctrine, training and logistics of the Chilean armed forces and the curricula of universities and secondary schools.

The ICRC has been working in Chile since 1973. Initially, it concentrated on visiting security detainees.  
Today, the organization is working with the Chilean Red Cross to promote and integrate international humanitarian law. The ICRC also conducts protection activities.    

We are also advising the government on the signing and ratification of international treaties related to humanitarian law, and on the integration of international humanitarian law into domestic law. For instance, we are currently advising on the incorporation of the rules prohibiting anti-personnel mines, protecting cultural objects in time of war or recognizing international tribunals empowered to try war crimes cases that have not been brought before domestic courts.

The ICRC also visits persons held for reasons of security, as it does in other Latin American countries. ICRC delegates visit Mapuche detainees to assess the material and psychological conditions of their detention. The sole aims of such visits are to assess those conditions and to submit confidential reports to the authorities responsible regarding what we have observed, along with any recommendations we may have.