It can be easy to take our health for granted. We don’t realize how much freedom being healthy provides us until we are too congested to go about our daily activities, unable to cross from one side of the room to another because of a broken leg, or staying up all night with a sick child. We mentioned in a previous post that people here often say that getting sick is a luxury: today we will explore more about why that is.
El Salvador has a universal healthcare system. There are public hospitals and clinics available for free to the public, but of course, these are often crowded and unable to attend to serious medical conditions in a timely fashion. There is also a government run insurance system that workers in the formal economy are required to pay into, with a corresponding infrastructure. While service is better with this type of insurance, it still may take weeks or months to get specialized appointments or schedule a surgery. Finally, there is the private healthcare system, within which you can pay for insurance coverage depending on your needs and your budget, attended to by private hospitals and clinics. With these three levels of coverage, you get what you pay for. It’s telling that the Salvadoran congress pays for private insurance coverage for congressional representatives and staff, at a cost of $6.5 million in taxpayer dollars a year.
While laudable that El Salvador recognizes healthcare as a human right and provides universal coverage, the reality is that many Salvadorans remain very vulnerable. In the public system, a diagnosis that requires special medication will still require you to pay out of pocket for those costs. Workers in the informal economy are unlikely to be enrolled with either government or private insurance. And of course, there are no “sick days” in the informal economy – a day of work missed means that much less food on the table at the end of the month.
Unfortunately, Salvadorans living in marginalized communities are also at a much greater risk of being exposed to public health hazards. Tight living conditions, with families often sharing just one or two total rooms in their home, contaminated water, pollution, stray dogs and cats, dirt floors… all of these environmental and socio-economic factors create public health risks for the population that is least equipped to deal with them.
In order to contribute to the healthy development of all the students at the Child Development Center, Programa Velasco supports two yearly medical check-ups for its scholarship kids, allowing families to pay a symbolic fee of $3 per check-up. In addition to a physical consultation and laboratory exams for parasites and other infections, the health clinic at our partner organization ANADES also provides a supply of vitamins, cough and cold medicine, necessary medications to get rid of parasites, and some other medications or supplements depending on the child’s diagnosis. While not a substitute for serious medical care, these check-ups are the first vital step in prevention that can often be difficult for families to navigate.
Last year, the results of the yearly check-up demonstrated how important these frequent appointments are: only 13% of kids were healthy. The rest had a variety of respiratory infections, gastrointestinal problems, and skin ailments. Our first round of medical check-ups for 2016 is underway as you are reading this, and we hope to share results with you as soon as possible. We also have a special request: due to financial difficulties, the clinic is currently unable to subsidize the cost of the check-up for non-scholarship students. These parents pay $8, with ANADES picking up the rest of the tab. We hope to help raise the money to pay these costs for the rest of the 40 students at the Center. Consider making a donation today!
After seeing how much health impacts personal and professional empowerment, we are also launching a new effort to provide medical check-ups for the 25 women in our Women’s Empowerment Project. You can donate here, and make a difference in the life of a woman in El Salvador!