By David Kelly
(May 2014) Standing in Guatemala before a gleaming new building rising from the
surrounding ramshackle villages, Gustavo Bolaños delivers a simple yet
powerful message to the assembled dignitaries and the banana plantation
“Today we are making the dream of my father a reality,”
the chief operating officer of major fruit producer AgroAmérica said in
March. “My father Jose Fernando Bolaños believed in the dignity of
work, in improving the lives of his employees and the welfare of the
community. And this is the result.”
With that he opens the Center for Human Development, a multifaceted medical facility created by the
University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital
Colorado to serve some 4,500 banana workers and their families. There
are plans to expand into neighboring communities in the future.
center sits on 10 acres of AgroAmérica land and will be staffed by CU
doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives, students and other health
professionals rotating through the site. The first physician arrived
This is the university’s first permanent presence in a
foreign country and a prime example of a successful public-private
partnership. Gustavo and Fernando Bolaños donated $1 million to
the University of Colorado Denver in 2012 to develop the center, whose
initial design was drawn up by students from the CU Denver College of
Architecture and Planning. Children’s stepped in to help fund the
“This is like a marriage between CU, Children’s and
AgroAmérica,” says Stephen Berman, MD, professor of pediatrics and
director of the Center for Global Health. The center is part of the
Colorado School of Public Health which has overseen most of the project.
“It’s a long-term partnership that will require give and take if it is
Berman was joined at the grand opening by his wife
Elaine; Edwin Asturias, MD, professor of pediatrics and director for
Latin America at the Center for Global Health; Judith Albino, PhD,
associate dean at the Colorado School of Public Health; Amy Casseri,
chief strategy officer for Children’s Hospital Colorado; and Doug
Jackson, PhD, CEO of Project C.U.R.E., which donated most of the
center’s medical equipment.
“Few universities have this kind of
comprehensive relationship in a foreign country,” Asturias says. “This
isn’t medical tourism. We are here to stay.”
Asturias, who grew up in Guatemala, says the center represents the best of global health.
“It’s a huge challenge but the kind of challenge we strive for,” he says. “We dreamt big and look what’s been accomplished.”
clinic includes laboratories, a dental office, exam rooms, a reception
and a separate research building. Living quarters are planned for
visiting health care workers.
The center sits in an impoverished
corner of southwest Guatemala known as the Trifinio region. It’s a hot,
humid place where residents often share homes with livestock, drink
contaminated water and suffer all the manifestations of poverty.
the nearest hospital an hour away in Coatepeque, the villages near the
plantation have little in the way of health care. Infant mortality rates
are high, children die from treatable conditions like diarrhea and
pregnant women may never see a doctor.
The center hopes to change
much of that. Banana workers and their families who normally pay up to
$50 to see a doctor in Coatepeque will now pay just $5 at the facility.
is a big help because it’s so close to many communities,” Juan Carlos
Cojulun, who lives nearby, says. “It’s much cheaper than going all the
way to Coatepeque.”
It also means local health workers, called tecnicas, won’t spend as much time tracking down pregnant women and newborn babies.
That’s just what center director Marco Celada, MD, and two tecnicas, Ada Velasquez, 23, and Sairya Lopez, 21, were doing hours before the grand opening.
drove deep into a steamy banana grove until they found Sandy Mendez,
20, nine months pregnant and in dire need of a checkup.
living in a house of corrugated steel sheets propped precariously
against each other. Ducks slumbered beneath a wood-burning stove. A box
of chicks peeped nearby. Her husband David Garcia, 26, a banana worker
who had been injured by a piece of flying metal, sat nearby with his leg
“The baby’s head is not in the right place,” Velasquez says.
They decided to return in a few days to see if anything changed.
of our big problems is getting to the babies within the first three
days of birth,” Celada says. “Fifty percent of deaths occur in the first
weeks of life.”
Hopefully the new center will bring the pregnant women to the tecnicas.
of the challenges is effective community engagement and recognizing
community in the broadest sense,” Berman says. “The tecnicas understand
Berman has had a storied career in global health. He’s set
up immunization programs for Colorado children and designed care
management systems for pneumonia for the World Health Organization. But
this may be his most exciting venture yet.
“It’s rewarding in every possible way,” Berman says. “But you’re only as good as your team, and our team is remarkable.”
The center is already having an impact back home.
recently interviewed a Stanford professor drawn to CU because of the
Guatemala project. And two fellows came to work at the university for
the same reason.
“I expect this to be a major magnet for new talent,” he says.
at the center, the Vatican’s representative in Guatemala, Archbishop
Nicolas Thevenin, blesses the clinic and the gates are thrown open.
than 300 workers and their families rush in. They tour spotless rooms,
marveling at a place that now belongs as much to them as anyone.
Albino, assistant dean of the School of Public Health, walks among the throng.
am absolutely amazed by what I’ve seen here,” she says. “I’m so
thrilled that the Colorado School of Public Health can be a part of
This is exactly what we stand for.”