Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

Chile: health care for remote Mapuche communities

Publisher International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Publication Date 9 December 2012
Cite as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Chile: health care for remote Mapuche communities, 9 December 2012, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In the middle of the salt-water Lake Budi, seven metres below sea level, remote Nahuelhuapi Island is home to a Mapuche community. The island is located in Cautín province, in the Saavedra district of the Araucanía region, in southern Chile.

See also photos : Chilean Red Cross helps Mapuche communities

At first sight, it might seem as though the inhabitants of Nahuelhuapi live in paradise, surrounded by great natural beauty. However, the 11 families living on the island face daily difficulties as a result of the remoteness and the climate. The fact that it is an island, the distances involved, the mountainous terrain and the dirt tracks all make access tricky, particularly when winter brings heavy rain and snow.

"This is a highly vulnerable community, particularly in terms of health care," explained Cristian Haase Reinike, director of the Araucanía branch of the Chilean Red Cross. "They might be cut off for several weeks when there's a storm or bad weather. In winter they have no means to cross the lake so when someone falls ill they often resort to herbal remedies."

The nearest medical centre is a boat-ride and a walk away. The journey takes around four hours – two by boat and another two on foot. "Evacuating someone who is ill or injured is very difficult," said Pedro Catrinao Marinao, leader of the Nahuelhuapi community. "There's no ambulance and illness doesn't give you advance notice of its arrival."

In an attempt to remedy the community's isolation and vulnerability, the Chilean Red Cross, with ICRC support, ran a health day on Nahuelhuapi Island at the beginning of November.

In just a few hours, the community centre had been transformed into a medical post, with separate areas for medical consultations and mobile dental chairs. It fell to Antonio Huaiquinao to blow the kull kull (a Mapuche instrument) to notify the community that they were ready to get started. Within minutes, dozens of men, women and children had arrived.

Over the course of the day, volunteers from the local branch of the Chilean Red Cross saw to the medical and dental needs of more than 50 islanders and issued medicines to them.
"I think it's a really good system," said Elisa Catrinao Painemilla, who lives on the island. "We all benefit from it, because we all live in such a remote spot."

While the adults were being treated, volunteers entertained and played with the children, who also had a check-up.

Since 2007 the Chilean Red Cross, with ICRC support, has been running health days, first-aid courses and disease-prevention workshops in rural communities in Araucanía. The region is gripped by tensions between the security forces and the Mapuche communities. "Our priority is to alleviate people's suffering as a result of the situations of violence in some communities in the region," explained Felipe Donoso, head of the ICRC regional delegation, who oversaw the work in Nahuelhuapi.

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