A State-of-the-Art Lab Offers Peace of Mind in El Salvador

By Kim Do, Communications and Culture Manager, PSI

Delmy Umanzor worked at a maternity hospital, desperate to help the people who came through her doors. In the heart of El Salvador, many patients travel from far-flung towns and villages only to realize the hospital cannot treat their condition, and that they cannot afford the specialized services their doctors referred.

Patients were many, but services limited and quality poor. Beyond routine care and referrals, there was little the hospital could provide in terms of specialized treatments and diagnostics. Delmy wanted a better experience for her patients, and moved to the privately-owned Laboratorio Centrolab, where she has worked since 2012 and serves as manager, overseeing 15 employees.

It’s 5 am (again). As her heels click on the bright white tiled floors at Laboratorio Centrolab, she carefully inspects reception, the hallway and each of the two labs, kneeling and reaching to wipe up every spec of dirt and dust. All of this is in anticipation of the 30 to 40 patients that will come through the door today.

One of these was a 60-year old patient from Sonsonate who traveled by bus for two hours with his 25-year old son. While the doctor in his town had the medicine, he did not have the diagnostics. Delmy beams with pride that she was able to provide the test and results in the same day. And the father and son were profusely grateful.

Delmy was working at Laboratorio Centrolab when she learned about PASMO (Pan American Social Marketing Organization), a PSI Network Member. PASMO receives funding from the USAID Combination Prevention Program for HIV in Central America that provides free or discounted HIV tests and counseling to vulnerable populations. Delmy read about the trainings PASMO offered from the Alliance of the Clinical Laboratories in El Salvador. “It called to me,” she remembers. “There were things I thought I knew but realized I didn’t,” she says of a training on patient counseling. “It opened up a whole new world to me.” Delmy seems determined to continuously “take little steps to improve” by attending upcoming trainings.

Delmy was instrumental in helping Laboratorio Centrolab become a PASMO clinic last September. While around 15 other labs in the region offer specialized diagnostic testing, Delmy’s lab also offers molecular biological testing, which is required to diagnose sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) like human papillomavirus (HPV), as well as others, like her elderly patient’s hyperthyroidism. When Delmy asked about testing for other diseases, she was supported in adding even more options, such as syphilis testing, to better serve her community.

“I’ve learned how great it is to help the community,” she says. “I want to be involved in helping other people.”