Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Community and Family Health

Major Professor

Russell Kirby


cross-sectional, indigenous, Panama, safe water


Water has cultural and spiritual values to indigenous people. These beliefs expose them to unsafe water sources and make them vulnerable to waterborne diseases. This background is not taken into account when countries write their water legislations, therefor imposing a management of water not readily accepted by them. The Embera group is one of the indigenous groups from the Republic of Panama, who have strong water beliefs. They live along the shore of rivers in houses built on high stilts away from urban areas. The purpose of this cross-sectional community based study is to describe through a survey the relation between the water beliefs of Embera communities living inside the Chagres National Park and the health of women and children. A house to house visit was performed in two of the five Embera communities that reside inside the Chagres National Park to enroll them and complete the survey. Sixteen Embera households with 71 family members agreed to participate. Results showed that 18.5% were children under 5 years of age and 14.1% their corresponding mothers. One hundred percent of the households rely on rural aqueduct as their source of water, with no treatment performed to this water. Women that completed elementary school or had higher education level accounted for 53.4%. Analysis of frequency of more than three diarrheal episodes in children under 5 years of age with mother's education level and months of breastfeeding had no statistical significance (X2 of 1.935, p-value of >0.05; X2 of 0.258, p-value of >0.05). When the frequency of diarrheal episodes in women and their education level was analyzed a statistically significant association was found (X2 of 6.429, p-value of 0.011). Five (38.5%) out of 13 children under 5 years of age in these communities had complete immunization calendar for their ages, but 10 (76.9%) have completed immunization for Rotavirus. No deaths due to diarrhea were reported in any member of the household. Marginalization in this type of communities is frequent since they settle in vast areas far from access to safe roads, safe water, basic sanitation and health services. A similar study can be applied to the 5 communities living in the area to have a clear view of their water beliefs, diseases and needs in order to concentrate efforts to close any gaps.