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Health and rural community in an andalusian small village

Author: Alfonso Pedrosa
Published Date: 22 February 2013

For thousands of years, the western foothills of Sierra Morena (Andalusia, Spain) have been mined for silver, copper, iron and other metals. However, the failure of these mines to make money over recent decades has badly hit the area's small traditional mining, farming, cattle-raising and foresting communities. These are small, isolated villages inhabited by an ageing, impoverished population with low educational attainment. In one of these localities, El Madroño, various formal and informal agents are creating knowledge networks and experience exchange with the local community in a project aimed at empowering citizens in knowledge-based healthcare. One of the initiatives to have arisen in this context is the 1st University Extension Course on Health and Rural Community, which was held in October and November in 2012.

The key figure in structuring the Course was Javier, the local pharmacist in El Madroño: he is the health agent who is closest to the population, being available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. He is also the President of the Spanish Society of Rural Pharmacy (Sefar). For the seven months prior to the Course, Javier gathered information from his patients (the inhabitants of El Madroño) about their specific needs and demands in the field of health education. In parallel, he obtained the support of the cyberactivist group Synaptica, which is devoted to expanding health knowledge via the Internet, and of researchers and professors from Seville University's Department of Pharmacology. In this phase, a joint proposal was presented to the University for it to lend official support to a course aimed at the non-university population and based on educational aspects related to the epidemiology of the most frequent diseases in the area, the basics in handling medicines, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and mental health. Various clinicians, communication specialists and university professors joined the project, which was funded by informal contributions from the various people who backed the initiative. The Course also counted with the support of El Madroño's local council, which provided community space for the sessions, and of the local centre of Guadalinfo, a Regional Government organisation linked to the Provincial Adminisitration devoted to the dissemination of the use of information technologies and communication.

In the end, 22 pupils enrolled for the Course. In addition, another 50 people from El Madroño and neighbouring villages attended the sessions informally. On the Saturday afternoons of October and November 2012, through a conversational approach to the Course's different content, a process of deliberation among equals began to be built about the awareness of citizens' rights in the field of health and personal responsibility in the use of public health resources. On the final day of the Course, a University representative presented the diplomas to the pupils, many of whom were over 65 and lacked educational qualifications: they had never set foot in university classrooms but this time the university had come to them.

This initiative is currently being extended to other localities in the area. In El Madroño the knowledge network continues to be woven among the residents in order to deepen their knowledge in self-healthcare and access to new information sources via the Internet.