25, April, 2013

Intercultural Health Policies in Latin America

Intercultural health policies have been implemented at the regional and state level, making important initial advances in recognising a health model that is pertinent to indigenous peoples’ culture and customs.

Historically, indigenous peoples’ access to health services in Latin America has been limited due to a variety of social, economic and cultural factors. The misunderstanding of indigenous peoples’ world view and their definition of health makes it more difficult to design and implement public policies that reflect their real needs. This Brief presents the progress at the regional and country level, discusses advances in the design and implementation of intercultural health policies in areas with indigenous communities. These policies have sought to counteract the constant tension between cultural diversity and western traditional medicine. The Brief describes some regional trends in terms of how states, social movements and civil society organisations are making efforts to incorporate intercultural health policies, and highlights two particularly interesting cases of how the policies are working in practice, one from Ecuador and one from Mexico. It concludes by outlining some of the challenges that have been encountered and lessons learned, all of which may prove useful for countries in other regions with significant indigenous populations.

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Key Lessons:

  • The Latin American experience shows that regional health organisations can play an important role by defining the elements of an intercultural policy and the pathway for implementing it. This provides important support and inspiration for individual countries within the region.
  • Constitutional acknowledgement of the right to intercultural health can be a first step to guaranteeing this right and ensuring its implementation.
  • The visibility of the struggle coming from the non-recognition and implementation of an intercultural health policy that has been brought by social movements and CSOs can produce substantive changes, such as the creation of agencies in charge of intercultural health or legal reforms.

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