Dr. Carolina Zuheill Rosales, a Mexican Doctor with a cause
The Covid-19 pandemic has induced a major shift in Carolina Zuheill Rosales’ career. This internal medicine doctor founded Guimedic in 2011, when she was 25. Through its mobile clinics, this NGO provides medical consultations in remote and poor areas throughout Mexico. The main focus is to treat indigenous communities.
Because of a structural lack of medical access to these populations, she has launched in March 2020 Promesa, a social business that is using artificial intelligence. Algorithms were created to look for COVID-19 patients, in order to reach them before they present potential complications.
Promesa is on the front-line of defense of indigenous communities in Mexico, which do not have the infrastructure, so the measures established by the WHO cannot be applied. Between March and December 2020, Promesa and its team of 53 volunteers have helped 13 000 patients with no access to health services. Among them, 83 have passed away. “The protocol consists of notifying us by cellphone with satellite service to follow up on the patient remotely. If the patient has all the symptoms and the data issued by the AI system gives a risk factor above 85%, we send them to a hospital, in line with the policy of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples. Treatments are also provided at home, such as Vitamin C, D, and acetaminophen”, she explains. Mexico is one of the hardest hit Latin American countries, with nearly 2 million Covid-19 cases and 170 000 deaths by mid-February 2021, on a total population of 126 million (against 9 million cases and 235 000 deaths in Brazil, for a population of 209 million).
The “doctor of the poor”
Born in the city of Guadalajara in 1986, Carolina Zuheill Rosales describes herself as “curious person by nature”. This natural curiosity led to “out of the box” problem solving skills. At 17, she went to Canada to study computer animation for one year, but she already knew she was meant to become a doctor. “Science has always held savvy over me and as serving others is my passion, it was only natural that both would come together". She also thinks that "being a doctor is a difficult path. It means to sacrifice yourself with sleepless nights and sometimes being bullied by patients, doctors and fellow students, but at the end never to give up."
To get her degree, she successfully completed a mandatory year of social service, and was assigned by the Health Secretary to a remote area in the State of Jalisco, eight hours away by car to the nearest hospital. “On my way there, I thought I would have a clinic with equipment, but there was nothing. After a few days, I met Maria, an indigenous woman. She walked more than 20 hours to ask me for help, but her baby was already lifeless. I could feel her pain”.
This shock led her to investigate the access to health care in Mexico. “The number of people deprived should decrease, but instead, it is increasing. We now have 56 million Mexicans living in extreme poverty, with no access to health and dying from preventable diseases”. She then decided to start Guimedic, a humanitarian medical association, with the help of medical students from different parts of the world and Mexican doctors. Since 2011, her non-profit has treated 13 800 000 patients, with a team that had a peak of 1 200 volunteers and financial help coming mainly through donations from families, friends, volunteers, private companies and local government.
This hard work on the ground means a presence throughout the year – and not four times per year with rotations like in other programs. Carolina keeps on coming back to remote places, even if that means a lot of hiking and sleeping under a tent. Patients have nicknamed her “The doctor of the poor”, because she never forgets them and is the only doctor taking care of them. But this is hardly enough for her, given the scope of the challenges. Acting on several fronts, she has served the federal government in 2012 as a State delegate on violence and crime prevention. In 2014, she became the national president of that task force and formed alliances on the Mexican borders to address migration issues. “We developed safe community routes, in areas that have in common the presence of drug cartels”, she says.
Getting involved in public policies
In 2013, Carolina obtained a certificate in entrepreneurial development at Harvard, and went on to study health management in 2015 at Universidad del Valle Mexico (UVM). “I want to create a positive change in people’s lives", she explains. I did not have enough knowledge to grow my venture, and needed more information to work with other countries”. She traveled to Spain to study International Cooperation Development and Directive Skills, and obtained a Masters degree, before publishing a book on How to Prevent Zika with Mayan Medicine (2016).
She joined the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders program in 2018 in Marrakesh, applying in a spirit of advocacy: “We need to open doors and make sure that everyone understands that health is a human right we need to invest in”. With the Policy Center for the New South, she was in touch with one of her passions – social policy. “Being able to connect with Presidents, Prime ministers and ambassadors gave me another perspective. We have to get involved in politics to create social policies to protect all people and see the change we want”.
Carolina, who likes to work behind the scenes, is about to finish a PhD in Public Health. Her next step is to study public policies and become an actor of change. Nothing can stop her, not even a brain tumor. She underwent surgery in 2019 and spent three weeks in a coma. “A life-changing experience that made me a human doctor, understanding the fears and doubts of the patient about the treatment”, she says. More determined than ever to “make a difference”, she thinks big and is still giving. Besides her NGO and her social business, she is a mentor for Voices of Social Change where more than 5 000 students around the world are learning from her experiences. She is also part of the Kuongoza Initiative, helping young people in Africa creating social businesses based on STEMI (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation).
Awarded many times, Carolina has been named in 2020 “Citizen of the year” by Grupo Salinas, a Mexican conglomerate operating in television, electronics and Internet. In 2021, she was selected as social entrepreneur by the biggest TV company in Mexico, where she will launch a campaign to motivate people to create social businesses.