Sano y Feliz: A Health Horizons International Success Story

bannerAndres Almonte is a member of the community of Pancho Mateo in Montellano. At 55 he was suffering from hypertension and obesity when he began as a patient with Health Horizons International. Andres became one of HHI’s Chronic Care patients in 2010, because of his hypertension, but although he was receiving free medication and monthly support from his Community Health Worker, it was not until he joined Sano y Feliz that he was able to experience major improvements in his health. Andres has been a participant in HHI’s healthy lifestyle program called Sano y Feliz for the past year. 2014 has been a transformative year for Andres. The following lines describe his experience:

Mr. Andres Almonte

Mr. Andres Almonte

“Before joining Sano y Feliz my health condition was very bad with high blood pressure and cholesterol and problems with my left foot. I am under treatment for these conditions. I am currently taking only 2 medicines and eating less fat and salt. I have lost 19 pounds in the past 6 months.”

Andres can confidently relate all the key messages transmitted by the Community Health Workers during the Sano y Feliz meetings regarding eating habits, and the importance of integrating regular physical activities in to his daily life. Before joining Sano y Feliz Andres had difficulty walking the short distances that were required to get around his house and carry out his daily life due to his weight and ill health. Since he has joined Sano y Feliz he has discovered a love of walking and now can be found walking in the early mornings on the streets of Pancho Mateo for one hour every day.

Sano y Feliz (Spanish for Healthy and Happy), one of the programs that Health Horizons International is carrying out in the Dominican Republic, aims to promote healthy behavior change through community based support groups that are led by Community Health Workers trained by HHI. During the weekly sessions, Andres has learned about the causes and consequences of hypertension and obesity making him conscious about his health status. He is aware of complications such as “infarto o derrame,” popular terms to refer to heart attack and stroke that could happen if he does not control certain risk factors.

During Sano y Feliz, the group focuses on finding local, accessible and culturally acceptable strategies to combat chronic disease in the Dominican Republic. During the meetings, members share experiences about their efforts to improve their diet and exercise, check their weight, and track their progress in achieving their health goals.

By using a simple color-coded food diary, Andres became aware that he needed to make drastic changes in his eating habits, which he describes here:

“Currently I am eating more healthy foods and decreasing salt intake and fat especially during the night. This makes me feel better.”

Andres tells HHI that this emotional improvement, which has positively affected his wellbeing, is one of the reasons he Picture 3encourages any community member to be a part of Sano y Feliz. Since joining Sano y Feliz, Andres has had an entire year of normal blood pressure and his doctor has even eliminated one of his medications because he no longer needs to take it anymore, due to his positive healthy behavior changes. His success story is an inspiration to many people in his community and to all of us at HHI.

Health Horizons International is currently developing, in partnership with the Dominican Ministry of Public Health, a program to test out the Sano y Feliz model on a larger scale to scientifically evaluate the success of the Sano y Feliz strategy in promoting healthy behavior change and preventing chronic disease.

Help Health Horizons International to create more stories like this one by donating today!

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November Newsletter

Read about some great new developments in HHI’s November Newsletter! We are excited to be welcoming new staff members, expanding Sano y Feliz, and embarking upon a project with Population Services International funded by the World Diabetes Foundation.  Read it here.

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A Board Member and Father Travels to the DR

by Chris Meelia

Chris photoI am many things: a husband, business man, grad student and HHI board member, among other things. Above all, though, I am a Dad. I have five children between the ages of 6 and 12. I view much of the world from the perspective of a father first. I’m always wondering what my kids will think of the things I encounter — and pretty much constantly capturing pictures of the world around me to share with my children.

 I have been on the board of directors of HHI for the past year and I finally had the opportunity to experience first-hand the great work our organization is carrying out in the D.R.  I took countless pictures to share the experience with my children. I suppose I had expected my children would be humbled — that somehow they would have a deeper appreciation for how easy our life is and how fortunate we are. That is certainly what I came away feeling. To my surprise, their reaction was quite different.

 After showing pictures of our first stop, the village of Negro Melo, the questions began. Upon seeing the dilapidated houses in the village, my son asked, “Why can’t we build them new houses?” His question was contained a mix of excitement and pride for coming up with the idea. I explained there are lots of organizations that build houses for the poor, but there are not enough houses and too many people that need them. Without hesitation he exclaimed “Well, more people should build houses for poor people then!”village photo

 I then showed my kids pictures of the HHI clinic. I explained the makeshift conditions with sheets hanging from the wall and no modern amenities. Their reaction was “Wow, that’s cool.” As they pointed out, hanging sheets made the exam rooms look like forts. My daughter astutely observed that by doing it this way, “You could make a hospital just about anywhere.” My kids are right — it doesn’t matter what the walls are made of, what matters is what happens within those walls. I was proud to tell my kids about the impressive the care HHI was providing to patients — it was every bit as good as what we receive in the US.

 When I showed my children pictures of Pancho Mateo, the most densely populated of the villages, the questions were rapid-fire. Upon seeing a picture of a stray dog, my youngest daughter implored “Why didn’t you bring him home?” I explained there were a lot of stray dogs there, to which she more emphatically challenged “Then why didn’t you bring them ALL home?” I showed pictures of the polluted river and talked about the work HHI had done building latrines and trying to bring water to the village. I wanted my children understand the gravity of the circumstance. “Why can’t they just clean the river?” “Can’t they just start their own water company?” No description of complicated politics, economic hardship or even impossible science limited their ideas. “We have lots of water here — can’t we give them some of ours?” My children’s interpretation was neither “lucky me” nor “poor them.” Instead, they thought “Let’s fix it!” When I spoke of the great work HHI is doing to improve the lives of the people in the D.R., they were impressed — but immediately wondered if HHI could do more. To them, these are all fixable problems. From the simple eyes of a child, if we have healthcare, why don’t they? We have food and clean water — they should too.

 River photoIt occurred to me after sharing my experience with my children… the failures in the D.R. are not failures of politics, economics or even circumstance. This is a failure of our collective imagination. We simply lack the optimism to fix what is broken. Every child knows what adults bury beneath excuses and rationalizations: we can fix this. We could provide housing, education, healthcare and basic services to every citizen of every nation, if only we had the optimism and imagination of a child to not accept things as they are.

 I have a tremendous respect for the people of the Dominican Republic. They were welcoming and proud and happy to accept whatever we offer. I couldn’t be more proud of the work being done by the dedicated staff of HHI — I’m grateful to be part of this great organization. While the realities of the world cannot be simply addressed with the basic solutions my children offered, their questions are valid. Why can’t we do more? The answer is that we can. By supporting organizations like HHI and countless others on the front lines, we can make a difference. We all know what needs to change and for the most part we know how to fix it. When we don’t, or if we get stuck, all we need to do is ask a child. They may not have the answers but they will quickly and succinctly identify what the real problem is. We should all be challenging each other to be more imaginative about solving the worlds hardest but still very solvable problems.

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