The University of Kentucky Shoulder to Shoulder Ecuador (STSE) program began in 2002, when Dr. Tom Young, Professor of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, led the first medical brigade to Ecuador with a small group of six committed participants who wanted to make a difference. Just four years later, the group had expanded to over 30 participants, and Dr. Claudia Hopenhayn, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, College of Public Health, and originally from Argentina, joined Dr. Young as brigade co-leader in 2006. Since then, the nature of the brigades has evolved into larger multidisciplinary groups. Interest and opportunities continue to increase for students, faculty, staff, clinicians, and volunteers. In the summer of 2008 Professors Young and Hopenhayn led two brigades of approximately 45 participants each, one in May and one in August. In 2009, the May and August Brigades will be repeated, and a smaller UK-Sponsored program with physical therapy students and faculty will take place in March.
Four years ago a planning team composed of UK faculty, staff and students and community partners began planning for a comprehensive community development project in Santo Domingo de los Colorados, Ecuador. The first phase was the development of a primary care health center in the community of Carlos Ruiz Burneo (CRB), a very poor community on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. In April of 2007 the health center was opened, called Centro Medico Hombro a Hombro (CMHH) (Shoulder to Shoulder Health Center). CMHH provides medical care, prevention services, mental health, oral health, and school-based services in the community. CMHH currently engages a volunteer U.S. pediatrician and employs local staff, including a general medical practitioner, a nurse, a psychologist, a dentist, a social worker and support personnel who work as a team to improve the health of patients who seek medical or dental care or preventive services at the CMHH.
At present, the STSE program is providing clinical and preventive services in three locations in Ecuador, which also serve as sites for the UK-led brigades. In addition to the services at CMHH, partnerships have been established with the Tsáchila people, a traditional indigenous group from the Santo Domingo area who live in small, isolated rural communities outside the city limits, and the brigades are now also working in a rural Andean region approximately two hours northwest of Quito, in Pedro Moncayo county.