Who Wants to Start CAN Central America?

This Fall marks the 10th anniversary of the first time I got an acupuncture treatment.    

I was volunteering in Managua, Nicaragua and I was experiencing bouts of vertigo.  None of the doctors could figure out what was wrong with me (in retrospect, it was probably my New England constitution responding to the incredible heat and humidity of Central America—I recovered once I was back in the U.S.).

Eventually, a friend– the ex-pat who had helped arrange my travel– suggested that I try acupuncture.  The acupuncturist, a Nicaraguan woman, diagnosed me via my pupils and muscle testing.  She had me lay on a massage table, with a curtain for privacy (there were one or two other patient behind their own curtains in the room).  I remember thinking that the needles felt like mosquito bites (the same thing I tell my own patients now).  The needles weren’t disposable, by the way, but we each had zipper bags with our names on them for our individual needles.  Ok, not the most sanitary situation, but I wasn’t versed in universal precautions at the time.

I went back a few times.  It was a pleasant experience, but not an Ah-Ha moment for me—I didn’t even contemplate acupuncture school until years later.  Thinking back now, though, it is interesting to consider the business model, which was essentially private-room acupuncture.

An acupuncture treatment with this woman cost $30 córdobas, which equated to less than $3 U.S.  That may seem insanely cheap by our perspective, but in one of the poorest country in Latin America that was a significant amount of money.  Tortillas cost the U.S. equivalent of ½ cent a piece, bus rides about 5 cents, a taxi ride less than $2.  Clearly, the average Nicaraguan could not afford to get acupuncture.

The irony is, the Nicaraguan culture is so community based in almost every other way.  You could even find an MD and diagnostic lab in most neighborhoods, but I had to travel by bus to the acupuncturist.   

Now, I know that there are fixed costs associated with needles, sharps containers, etc.  But I bet, especially if the space were donated (just the thought of the large community room in the neighborhood church makes me itch to go back down with some zero-gravity chairs), an acupuncturist there could make a living charging a much lower sliding scale.   I would love to see that happen.



Emily Konstan
Author: Emily Konstan

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  1. hey Emily!

    Just over here, visiting your very peaceful post.  *happy sigh*

    I am curious about the acupuncturist and where she was trained.  I also wonder about the role of indigenous medicine…don’t know anything about that, just wondering.  I would love to go down there sometime; did I tell you I have an aunt who lives in Matagalpa?  She works at the Casa Materna, and I’ve been thinking it would be nice for acupuncture to be one of the services available to the mamas, pre- and post-delivery.

  2. That would be a beautiful

    That would be a beautiful thing. Before kids, I’d be on a plane right now setting up a shop for you all to come visit.

    Recently, I was thinking, what would happen if the scale was $5-$15? Superhero speed acupuncture and lots and lots of treatments!

    What were you doing in Managua?

    Thanks for the post!

  3. 15 patients/hour!

    “Recently, I was thinking, what would happen if the scale was $5-$15? Superhero speed acupuncture and lots and lots of treatments!”

    That would be a great reason to go and listen to Michael Smith talk at WCA on Sunday, October 25th, 9-12!  (It’s a seperate event from the other WCA workshop, with it’s own sliding scale of $25-75 for the morning.)  Hope to see ‘ya there…

  4. Makes me wonder about the legalities of setting up

    community acupuncture schools in South America.  And we wouldn’t even need recliners (too expensive to fly over there).  After they’re all trained and have their clinics open, we could leave a core staff with teachers there and fly off to another country.  I’ll bet a lot of these countries aren’t as regulated as the U.S.

  5. I love all of these ideas

    Nora, I never made it to Matagalpa but it is supposed to be gorgeous there.  Nicole, I was just thinking about $5 treatments the other day.  I wonder if it could work.  

    And Lumiel– Yes, this would be a chance to set up an acupuncture school with a curriculum that really works!  Maybe some of the more industrialized Latin American nations might have regulations (though I doubt it), but I’m pretty sure Nicaragua doesn’t.  We could treat people in rocking chairs or hammocks (the two most common seating choices there– upholstered furniture is just too hot).

    Oooh, don’t tempt me people!  I just bought a house! 

  6. Global Natural Health Alliance

    Hello! Just wondering if any of these ideas have come to fruition? I have started a global nonprofit called Global Natural Health Alliance (www.GNHAlliance.org) following 7 months of travel in Central America. While traveling I was able to offer 3 free acupuncture clinics in rural Costa Rica and Nicaragua. They were extremely successful and thus began our nonprofit. We are planning to establish permanent clinics in city centers such as Granada to offer treatments on a sliding scale and launch mobile circuit clinics in the surrounding rural communities. We too hope to teach natural health care modalities to those Nicaraguans interested in learning these techniques, while we learn from the local traditional healers, exchanging knowledge. One of our main objectives is to unite like minded practitioners in healing our planet and her people. I would love to connect with any or all of you who are currently in Nicaragua making a difference.

    Lindsay Herrera, LAc, LMT, Dipl.O.M.


  7. Nicaragua

    Lindsay –

    Last year I co-lead a trip for Acupuncturists Without Borders to Oaxaca Mexico. We offered community style clinics in 5 pueblos in the mountains and coast only using the NADA 5 point ear protocol. The local curanderos asked to learn the NADA technique and I am currently fundraising to go back to teach in 11/11 or 02/12.

    I am very interested in continuing to hear about what you are and will be doing. Please keep in touch.



  8. Acupuncture

    While visiting my daughter in Rochester, N.Y. I learned about Rochester Community Acupuncture thru a health magazine. I immediately made an appointment and had my first visit, I am very pleased and since I will be here for a few weeks I am planning to schedule a few more visits.
    I was born in Nicaragua and raised in the United States since I was 13 yrs old. Now, I am 55 years old and retired in the city of Leon, Nicaragua. I am interested in learning your natural health modalities and if anyone is interested I have a home that can be turned into a clinic so we can help our community.