Sonia and the smallest orito banana ever
"In some ways Ecuador’s healthcare system is years ahead of the United States’. Here a visit to a public hospital entitles free x-rays, emergency care, vaccinations, and anti-diabetic medication, and although some services require out of pocket pay, the fee is minimal - $4 for a pap smear. In the United States on the other hand, state elected officials, say from (cough cough) Georgia, are still arguing over the constitutionality of the passed healthcare reform. While people continue to lose their houses over medical bills and take on thousands of dollars in debt after a few nights in the emergency room, these state officials are standing on podiums bellowing out succession rhetoric.
This isn’t to say that Ecuador’s healthcare system is ideal. In my opinion, the implementation of Ecuador’s universal healthcare system began before economic theories were ever seriously considered. Because of the absence of economic incentives - short hours, high wages, and benefits - there is a lack of medical personnel in the public hospitals and subcentros (free health clinics). This combined with the fact that members in our community have to travel at least 30 minutes by bus to receive free care have led many to utilize physicians as a last resort, only when they experience physical and/or severely debilitating symptoms.
Since August, Shawn, Sarah, and I have been working to broaden our community members’ definitions and understandings of prevention. Our goal was/is to carry out Serena’s, a 2008/2009 PD, idea to open a preventative health center (PHC) in the fourth floor of the Centro. Through a series of focus groups that began with Serena and ended with us, we saw that community members were eager to take charge of their health but felt like they lacked the tools and knowledge to do so. We envisioned a resource center that hosts health book and a computer with internet for research, a health promoter to answer basic health questions, monthly charlas, cooking classes, and a resource manual that lists where free health services can be accessed. We have spent the past 10 months fulfilling this mission.
Through a series of connections and meetings with the MOH, we solicited the help of an already trained health promoter. He has helped us write a health questionnaire (that will give us an overview of our communities’ physical and mental wellbeing as well as help us understand how to best equip the PHC), work towards the completion of 100 questionnaires, and made us aware of a nutrition organization called Alimentate Ecuador.
Alimentate first visited Rumiloma at the end of April. Since then they have been training 10 dedicated women as nutrition promoters. This Wednesday will be the culmination of the program and hopefully the start of their nutrition campaigns in our communities. In April we also initiated cooking classes. Each week, Sarah and Erik teach students how to make healthy meals with local ingredients in our newly installed fourth-floor kitchen.
The summer volunteers have brought more helping hands. As they shadow in hospitals, they will gather information about the locations of free health services for the resource manual. In their remaining time, they will utilize the fertility beads Serena left us for a reproductive health charla.
Until recently, our efforts have been less about opening a center and more about creating a health-focused atmosphere. We have reached a critical point now that necessitates the consolidation of all those efforts into a small purple room upstairs. We have purchased 34 health books, a laptop, and a desk. On June 1st we will have a physical space that our communities can use to access resources, learn how to care for their health before getting (and while being) sick, and lower the cost that Ecuador spends on preventable illnesses.