Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Linda M. Whiteford, Ph.D.

Keywords

Health services, Children, Latin America

Abstract

The deterioration of the Argentine public health system has lead to an increase in non-governmental involvement in the provision of health services. The emerging relationship between these sectors is filled with tensions, contradictions, and negotiations, reflecting the historical trajectory of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the transformations of the public health system. These problems are specifically evident in programs that focus on pediatric oncology treatment due to the fact that ideas about childhood, chronic disease, and mortality construct an unusual collaborative framework between governmental and non-governmental healthcare professionals. Pediatric cancer contradicts traditional notions of childhood; it points out the ambivalences associated with death; and represents a challenge to biomedical practice.

This thesis provides a historical reconstruction of pediatric medicine in Argentina with an emphasis on the involvement of non-governmental actors in treatment and policymaking. Furthermore, it presents an analysis of the discourses and practices of the staff of an NGO that collaborates with 5 public hospitals in Buenos Aires, providing medical treatment, psychotherapy, and other forms of assistance to pediatric oncology patients and their families. The purpose of this investigation was to determine the main difficulties experienced by the NGO's staff members and the strategies they used to deal with problems.

By carrying out thirty open-ended structured interviews and participant observation in two public hospitals in Buenos Aires, the research indicated that the main problems were the lack of training on medical procedures and hospital policies received by the staff and the fact that they were not offered counseling to cope with the emotional consequences of working with pediatric oncology patients and their families. As a consequence, many staff members experienced feelings of frustration and abandoned the organization prematurely, affecting the type of services provided to the children and their families. This information was formulated into a report with recommendations for improving the training offered to the staff and the internal communication of the organization.

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