Dr. Nancy Melgar is pictured here on the far right with fellow staff and AmeriCares staff visitors

Interview: An AmeriCares Doctor in El Salvador on Family Care

Emma Cannon
by Emma Cannon, Latin America and Caribbean Intern at AmeriCares

When Dr. Nancy Melgar from La Clínica Integral de Atención Familiar, AmeriCares Family Clinic in El Salvador, visited the Stamford headquarters, I was lucky enough to interview her and hear her fascinating story: from showing a passion to become a doctor at a young age when she would cure her dolls to studying medicine in El Salvador and Cuba to finding her calling in the field of humanitarian work with AmeriCares.

The Gaps in El Salvador’s Health Care

Apart from her inspiring story, Dr. Melgar spoke about the structure of the health care system in El Salvador, giving me a better picture of where the clinic fits into the national framework. She explained the clinic fills a large gap in publicly-funded primary care for communities that do not fall under the reach of the Ministry of Health’s basic care initiative.

“Curanderos,” or traditional healers, also fill the gap in access to basic care. These healers don’t have technical medical training, but they are well respected, and a significant part of the population uses them for their medical needs.

Dr. Nancy Melgar is pictured here on the far right with fellow staff and AmeriCares staff visitors
Dr. Nancy Melgar is pictured here on the far right with fellow staff and AmeriCares staff visitors

Dr. Melgar said it is common for children to die of preventable diseases because they were brought to a curandero for healing when a medical clinic or institution could have provided treatment.

When I later researched the national health care framework, I found that El Salvador is one of few Latin American countries considered to be in crisis because the country lacks a sufficient quantity of health care professionals for the population’s needs. Moreover, roughly 35 percent of Salvadoran households live in poverty and don’t have access to health care and education.[1]

How Dr. Melgar is Helping Fill the Gaps

With knowledge of this health care system challenge, among many others due to a lack of desired coordination, Dr. Melgar and the clinic staff intend to help create a strong, sustainable network of communication within El Salvador’s health care system. This communication is vital to closing of gaps in primary care and preventing mortality from treatable causes, particularly for these children.

An important part of improving the system’s effectiveness for Dr. Melgar is also the clinic’s educational programs. These programs help to inform the communities who visit the clinic about the importance of receiving basic care. She and her director, Dr. Quijano’s motto is:

“No dar por dar, que valoran su salud.”

This means, [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@americares” suffix=”~Dr. Melgar #quote”]”Do not just treat patients, but make them value their health.”[/inlinetweet]


Her testimony exemplifies the important crux between providing care and providing educational programs on prevention and treatment. By promoting communication with players in the national health care framework and working on grassroots education programs that will support individuals in advocating for their and their loved ones’ health, Dr. Melgar’s, the clinic’s, and AmeriCares work is geared toward strengthening the health care system in El Salvador from the top down and the bottom up.

This way, individuals such as the children whose deaths may be prevented by basic medical treatment can receive the care they need.


[1] Annex 11. El Salvador. World Health Organization. Accessed June 23, 2014. http://www.who.int/workforcealliance/knowledge/resources/MLHWCountryCaseStudies_annex11_ElSalvador.pdf

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