"Providing computer-based, health training in the remote regions of the Amazon is a first for any non-government organization, so we're embarking on something pretty noteworthy here."

— WiRED board member Ralph Daniels





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Galilea, Peru


The village of Galilea, Peru has no roads, no power lines, and no cell towers. Its sole connection to the outside world is the Amazon River on which small boats carry supplies from a town nearly 100 miles away. Although statistics are hard to come by, we know the population is relatively young and the education level is low. A sizable portion of the community can read Spanish.


As in so many villages on the Amazon, Galilea's isolation has not immunized it against health conditions that plague people everywhere in developing regions. Water contamination is rampant and that leads to typhoid, dysentery, other gastrointestinal illnesses, and diarrhea—a particularly pernicious problem for children. Diets are skewed toward heavy starches; again, children are most severely impacted. Kids here are shorter and frailer than children elsewhere, and, consequently, they are more vulnerable to illnesses and developmental problems. Many other damaging health conditions lead to the sad statistic that life expectancy is 50 years.


The good news is that behavior change can yield large and positive results. Learning about how to obtain clean water, observe sanitary conditions, treat dehydration, eat a more balanced diet, and address simple health issues before they become complicated health issues can greatly improve community health.



WiRED Begins Ambitious Project in the Amazon
by Allison Kozicharow


Click image to enlarge

WiRED just took a giant step towards ramping up its Community Health Information (CHI) Center programs in South America with a new project in Peru. WiRED Director Gary Selnow, Ph.D. recently returned from visiting the small village of Galilea, deep in the Amazon jungle. After testing CHI modules in Galilea, WiRED plans to provide these resources to other communities similarly affected by problems of clean water and nutrition. The training programs will offer face-to-face seminars, demonstrations, taped discussions—and provide WiRED's full CHI e-library covering more than 100 health topics. Further, WiRED will provide the necessary computer hardware and solar power source to operate the equipment.


WiRED board member Ralph Daniels said, "Providing computer-based, health training in the remote regions of the Amazon is a first for any non-government organization, so we're embarking on something pretty noteworthy here."


The expedition to Peru began when the Polus Center invited WiRED to address health issues in Galilea. In Peru, Polus' current project offers assistance to land mine victims and creates awareness about land mine safety. WiRED also has worked with the Polus Center in Nicaragua and other Central American countries. Dr. Selnow accompanied an international group of about sixteen people—including Polus director, Mr. Michael Lundquist, and Polus chief operating officer, Dr. Theresa Kane. The group also contained a long-time colleague of Polus and WiRED, Mr. Santiago Castellon. Members of Peru's Contraminas and a senior official of that organization, Mr. Wilyam Lúca, were members of the group, along with Peruvian physicians. Their journey took them on a short plane flight, a long bus trip, a lengthy car ride on dirt roads, and a 4.5 hour boat trek on the Amazon.


Dr. Selnow said, "We worked with local people to learn about the most common health issues. Many health problems involved contaminated water and resulting gastrointestinal problems that lead to diarrhea and often dehydration. Children are especially affected by illness and dehydration. People also suffer from nutrition problems. In addition to these problems, people here experience similar health issues that face people everywhere."


Galilea has a small primary care clinic, but for secondary and tertiary care, the villagers must travel by boat for hours. Especially under these conditions, prevention and healthy behaviors are important in heading off illnesses. WiRED's belief that community health begins with knowledge is particularly relevant here. Knowledge of health behaviors, warning signs, first aid, and other basic health-related issues are central. Our computer-based information and health education programs will be the only sources of health information.


WiRED Board Chair Anthony Hodge said, "The people of Galilea have serious health problems that can be addressed with modest behavior changes. Behavior change can be stimulated through education, and that's where WiRED comes in. This project will address wide-ranging health issues in Galilea, with an emphasis on clean water and nutrition—the basis of many health problems in this isolated village and others like it."


WiRED's Amazon Program in Galilea and Beyond


Our Strategy


WiRED has long maintained that the knowledge people acquire enables them to become participants in their own health care. Accordingly, we have created and expanded our CHI programs to educate people about water and nutrition. Further, the CHI program introduces a wide range of health issues and offers practical lessons for people to help themselves and to know when they should seek medical assistance.


While providing the full CHI library of more than 100 health topics, we will focus on two key issues: water and nutrition.




A.) BioSand filters. WiRED has developed programs that explain the theory and demonstrate the practice of constructing BioSand filters. What are they?

BioSand filters use sand and gravel (found locally) in a slow filtration process that treats polluted water. Research demonstrates that BioSand filters remove 95 to 99 percent of organic contaminants, including bacteria, viruses, protozoa, worms, and particles. The resulting water is clear and odor-free. It can be used for drinking, food preparation, sanitation and personal hygiene.

In this project, we will accomplish four tasks related to BioSand filters:

  1. Provide a demonstration BioSand filter;
  2. Offer seminars on BioSand filter operation;
  3. Supply modules that describe how BioSand filters work and how to build them; and
  4. Include detailed blueprints for production facilities.

In addition to the health benefits of clean water, this program could become a community business opportunity to produce and sell BioSand filters in other locations.


B.) Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT). Dehydration, a frequent outcome of severe diarrhea (caused by e.g., typhoid), can be deadly, especially to children. ORT, a simple solution of salt, sugar, and water, can be prepared at home for the successful treatment of dehydration. We will provide educational tools that show people how ORT works and how to prepare and administer it.




Click image to enlarge

Working with Peruvian and U.S.-based nutrition specialists, we will provide training programs that teach about balanced diets. Further, the program will concentrate on infants and children, who are especially challenged by poor diet. We recognize that cultural foundations of the present diets result in resistance to change. Training tools will be sensitive to these conditions and encourage small, incremental dietary modifications.




During the past 10 years, WiRED has provided computer-based tools for health education. Using a model we developed in Africa, we will outfit a small computer facility in the Galilea health clinic. We will supply three low-wattage computers and monitors, powered by solar equipment, which we also will provide. We will train local people how to operate the computer facility. This will include computer training, client assistance procedures, and health content education.


Layout by Brian Colombe.

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