Health is seen by the indigenous communities in a holistic way, where the rainforest, climate, social dynamics, individual and collective health (physical and psychological), are all linked. The challenge is to ensure that both individual and community health needs are attended to, valuing the traditional knowledge of healing, nutrition and medicinal plants, and drawing on western clinical expertise or medicines where necessary.
Gaia Amazonas supports a community-led approach to health. Field officers – medics, anthropologists – spend time with the communities and discuss their view of health and wellbeing, how they attend to health issues, and their concerns over climate-induced or other health problems. They discuss human and environmental aspects, cultural and social practices, and begin to chart how health issues vary according to the seasons of the year and the changes in human, fauna and flora behavior. Gaia Amazonas has trained local indigenous researchers to collect and analyze epidemiological data, and to document their own traditional medicines and health systems. In addition, over 200 local indigenous people have been trained to staff community health posts.
Once the specific needs for each community and each ethnic group are defined, local indigenous organizations can develop their own inter-cultural health programs, and negotiate with government for state funding to cover this basic need.
140 indigenous communities, in the Colombian Amazon, are managing their own health, vaccination and sanitation programs.