Home Institution

Duke University

Publication Date

Fall 2015

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


Research Question: How does Cristian-Aymaran spirituality influence medical decisions and perceptions of death during the end of life care of Aymaran elders?

Objective: To describe the perceptions of spirituality and death among the providers of end of life care in the commune of Putre in order to determine the role of such beliefs in the medical decisions of Aymaran elders with the goal of improving the methods of care.

Background: Statistically the population of Chile is getting older creating a greater need for end of life care programs. In Putre, specifically, the need for end of life care is particularly prevalent because of the large population of elderly people. The Aymaran culture and faith has a strong presence in the community and in health practices, as do the primary Christian establishments (Catholic, Evangelical, and Pentecostal). Spirituality has been shown to greatly influence the process of dying and perceptions of death among elders. Methods: This was a descriptive study conducted in the town of Putre, Chile during the month of November. Data was collected through a series of semi-structured interviews with providers of end of life care, including biomedical, traditional, spiritual, familiar, and community care givers.

Results: The population of elders in Putre was estimated at 25-30 percent of the population. Most elders are perceived to be healthy and care for themselves and their spouses independently. However, when they do fall ill, most frequently they are required to go to the hospital in Arica and often are not able to return to Putre, whether for health or familiar reason. Moving to Arica was associated with decreased health and faster death. Faith in God and respect for Aymaran spirits both greatly augment the ability of elders to accept death as a natural process, resulting in low rates of death anxiety. Each provider of care focused on a specific aspect of well-being (physical, mental, emotional, social), but all recognized the importance of religious beliefs at the end of life.

Conclusions: In order to attend to the end of life care needs of the elderly population of Putre, respect for the intercultural spiritual beliefs of the Christian-Aymaran majority is required. Additionally, elders prefer to stay in Putre until they die and should be empowered to do so through better health programs and resources in the rural town.


Community-Based Research | Family, Life Course, and Society | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology of Culture


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