In 2002 when we started Tula, issues of global health dominated the news, particularly the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. Realize that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria had only just started up at that time. Because of Mitra’s background in health care, we shared a natural interest in global health, but we knew we needed to find a niche in what was a very crowded field.
Rather than concentrate on drugs and vaccines, we decided to focus on health systems for developing countries.
Rather than work in Africa, where so much attention was then focussed, we elected to work in Central America. We already knew Guatemala quite well, and we knew that it was relatively calm after decades of civil war and violence. We were fortunate to find experienced partners early on:
- The Government of Canada.
- The Centre for Nursing Studies in Newfoundland.
- The local nursing school serving rural and indigenous areas of Guatemala, the Escuela Nacional de Enfermería de Cobán.
From the outset we fostered innovation and solutions for rural—mostly indigenous Mayan—communities, drawing upon local expertise, supported by technology to “take health care that last mile”. Over time we gained the experience and confidence to take the lead.
Today, after almost two decades of hard work, our program has expanded from a small foothold in one department to encompass all rural indigenous regions of the country.