By Charles Redding, MedShare CEO & President
Each year MedShare organizes an Impact Trip to a country we serve as a way to give Board members, staff, donors, potential donors, and supporters a way to see first-hand the impact of our work and to evaluate current healthcare conditions. Each year we leave amazed by the impact of our work and the number of complexities that exist in communities in need of care. This year was no different. A group of seven of us embarked on a four day journey where we were shocked, intrigued, and amazed.
We were shocked to see leprosy patients being treated in the city, but they remained joyful and appreciative for all of the support they received from those outside of Ecuador, in particular, Sister Ann who ran the leprosy clinic. We visited a school for girls located three hours outside the city in The Andes where parents had decided that they could not afford to care for their kids or they had been removed from their homes due to abuse. The girls found hope and refuge in a Teddy Bear that was given to them upon entry. It reminded them that they were not alone.
We were intrigued by a local sugar factory, San Carlos, that took it upon itself to provide quality healthcare not only for the families of workers in this remote community, but also for the entire community which depended on the factory for economic stability, among other things. While there, we witnessed a Wheel Chair Ceremony, where many community members with disabilities where given new wheel chairs that not only lifted their spirits, but provided the gift of mobility to many who had none. It was their lifeline. San Carlos had one request for us: an Ultrasound machine that would enable them to provide better care for their patients.
We were also amazed to see such quality, well-run medical facilities for pediatric and maternal care. These facilities were on par with those that you may encounter in the U.S. It just goes to highlight the complexity that existed in this diverse community.
Many of the improved healthcare conditions were brought about when Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, took office in 2007. He promised to make his country’s public healthcare system the envy of South America. He lived up to his promise by guaranteeing free public health care, investing heavily in healthcare primarily through a state-run lottery, and partnering with a private NGO, Junta de Beneficencia de Guayaquil, to administer a high quality healthcare experience for all Ecuadorians, including the very poor and marginalized communities. MedShare has routinely partnered with Junta to provide access to quality healthcare to poor communities since 2002. More recently, in 2016, MedShare supported disaster relief efforts following the catastrophic earthquake that devastated marginalized communities, many of which struggle to take advantage of the improved healthcare conditions in the country as a whole.
We left Ecuador concerned that many of the improvements in healthcare could be quickly undone and feeling uncertain that the poor will benefit either way. In an effort to expand access to public healthcare, the previous government constructed 46 health centers and 12 hospitals throughout the country. All of these facilities provide free medical services, but the problem isn’t that easy to solve. Often there is a tradeoff between access and quality. We encountered a number of the privately managed public hospitals that had not received funding and had to significantly reduce their staff and services. The new regime, which took office in 2017, is reevaluating the use of nongovernmental partners to provide public healthcare, even though success is undeniable. There is also a strong push for privatization.
This is yet another constant reminder of how fragile health systems in developing countries can be and the strong linkage to the government. One change in government leadership can be the difference between life and death for many of its citizens.
Regardless of the circumstances, however, MedShare stands ready to support those who are in need…