In Country

In Latin-American and Caribbean nations, ASHA-certified audiologists and speech-language pathologists are strengthening access to care 

A collaboration between the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the Pan American Health Organization, regional office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), has over the past six years, strengthened the capacity of professionals and institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean to address communication disorders. 

ASHA-certified professionals are central to this success story, which has so far unfolded in El Salvador, Guyana, Honduras, Paraguay and Belize. They volunteer in country, working closely with national officials and local stakeholders and engaging in an array of activities tailored for each country and aimed at enhancing the availability of audiology and speech-language services. ASHA volunteers have developed curricula, recruited faculty, facilitated donations of books, trained service providers and parents of children with communication disorders, and developed Spanish-language training resources, for example.

“Our ASHA member volunteers have generously and effectively lent their expertise and served as exemplary ‘ambassadors,’” says ASHA Past President Elise Davis-McFarland, PhD, CCC-SLP, a former ASHA-PAHO project volunteer in Guyana.

Recently, the collaborative effort earned ASHA and PAHO recognition from the American Society of Association Executives.

Boosting Access

The right to freedom of opinion and expression across the world is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recently marked its 70thanniversary. But many people’s ability to communicate is held back by a lack of access to audiology and speech-language services. 

Retired ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist Gloria Weddington is among the ASHA-certified members who have been trying to help change this. She chaired ASHA’s ad hoc committee providing technical assistance to the Guyana Ministry of Health from 2013 to 2015. The group worked with the ministry to bring communication disorders into the spotlight and begin to create a sustainable pipeline of speech, language and hearing service providers in a country that until now has had only a handful of them. 

“When ASHA entered the picture through its collaboration with PAHO, we asked the people of Guyana what they wanted,” Weddington says. “They said, ‘a degree program for speech, language and hearing professionals at the university.’” 

So the ministry created a speech-language therapy and audiology program at the University of Guyana to train students to become certified audiologists and speech-language pathologists. Five students have graduated from the 4-year program so far, and 12 new students joined in September.

ASHA-certified members volunteer to teach online courses in the program, and three paid their own way to Guyana to teach courses and supervise student practicums, Weddington says.

“We are grateful to PAHO for their outstanding guidance and facilitation of our work, and to the countries that have hosted us so invitingly and graciously,” ASHA Past President Davis-McFarland says.