Campus & Community

Program combats Peru’s mental, social health problems

2 min read

Harvard group conducts weeklong training session

In response to the devastating long-term health effects of violence in local communities throughout Peru, the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma is currently conducting a weeklong training session for 25 medical doctors, psychologists, nurses, and social workers. The training initiative – running through Feb. 27 at the Inn at Harvard – was implemented by Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo.

A former fellow at the Kennedy School of Government, Toledo asked the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma to provide training to Peruvian health professionals after Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission advised the implementation of local mental health services.

In the past 20 years, Peru has suffered extensive human rights violations due to internal war. Terrorist and military actions have accounted for the killing of 70,000 people, and thousands of disappearances and cases of forced imprisonment and torture. Taken together, these brutal acts have contributed to the deterioration of the South American nation’s mental health, including increased rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and associated health disorders. Additionally, Peru’s human rights violations serve to dramatically reduce social capital creating higher rates of hopelessness, demoralization, diminished quality of life, and waves of forced migration, mainly from rural areas to cities.

The current group of health professionals now visiting Cambridge for training, group discussions, and postwar recovery strategies actually marks the second group to visit the Harvard campus. This past January, 25 Peruvian health specialists participated in the program. As a result of that group, Peruvian university representatives are now creating a university degree to train health professionals in Peru.