Inequality and Health Care in Peru


In today’s issue of El Comercio, Peru’s main daily newspaper, this headline caught my eye. It reads, “Only 39.6% of the budget allocated to healthcare was used in 2012.” Though it doesn’t have the answers, the article may provide some insight into one of the questions students always ask when they first see the communities where Mobile Clinics take place.

Peru is home to one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. So why do the nation’s poor — about 1/3 of the total population — still lack access to basic health care services? In recent years, the Peruvian government has implemented widespread reforms targeted at alleviating these problems. But, as we regularly see on our visits to patients’ homes and hospital rooms, the country still has a long way to go.

According to the experts quoted in the El Comercio article, the budget disparity is due to “administrative bottlenecking,” and the failure of local governments to adequately administer finances allocated toward social programs. The article goes on to describe some of the achievements of the government in social reforms this year, primarily the creation of the Ministry of Development and Social Integration. This ministry administers the Wawa Wasi program, among others, intended to help children and families living in extreme poverty. But the number of actual beneficiaries of these programs represents only a small portion of those who truly need them, according to El Comercio.   

In many cases, people don’t receive the benefits they are entitled to simply because they are unaware of the resources available to them, recent changes to government programs, or how to access these resources. According to a report released last week by the Peruvian National Institute of Statistics and Information (INEI), 37.4% of Peruvians do not have health insurance. 34% of Peruvians suffer from chronic illnesses, but only 52.2% of them receive some form of treatment, most of them in pharmacies or Ministry of Health clinics. The Sistema Integral de Salud (SIS) was created to cover health care costs for people living in extreme poverty, like many of those who receive our patient follow-up services. But in order to sign up for SIS, they must go through a long paperwork process, including creating a national identity card, which people in poor and rural areas often don’t have. In centralized Peru and Ecuador, patients may have to travel hours to reach a major city.

A major component of MEDLIFE’s patient follow-up program in Peru is informing patients of their rights and helping them take advantage of the benefits available to them. That means being constantly present, actively seeking out resources, and many times, fighting for them. As we move into a new year, MEDLIFE is renewing its focus on treating root causes with educational programs and bridging the gap with patient care. Because people like Carmen and Esther have the right to see a doctor and get treatment when they’re sick. 

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Hear it From MEDLIFErs

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Reya Seby
Western University

This trip motivated me more to pursue a career in the healthcare field so that I can use my resources to help those who need it the most, similar to MEDLIFE’s mission.

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Victoria DiCanio
University of Connecticut

It was most enjoyable to finish the hard work and see how big a difference a group of individuals can make. It was such an amazing experience.

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Anita Woo
University of Toronto

I enjoyed the mobile clinics the most, especially the dental and triage portions. I would definitely recommend a MEDLIFE trip, it was a great experience.

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David Saff
Maclay High School

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Sydney Sansone
Nova Southeastern University

This trip made everything that I was learning in my public health courses come to life and immersed me in a new culture while also learning about medicine.

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Abygail Youmans
College of Charleston

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Emi Hofmann
University of Central Florida

Not only was I able to participate in a week long Mobile Clinic, shadowing doctors of all types of specialties including pharmacy, dentistry, gynecology, and more, but I was also able to learn about the culture and visit incredible places.

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Julian Takagi-Stewart
University of Toronto

One thing that I really loved about this trip was that MEDLIFE made sure that the volunteers got an understanding of the complexity of issues that lead to underprivileged people in communities outside of the main city

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Hannah Van Hofwegen
University of Ottawa

Whether it was basketball with the local kids, assisting the doctors, talking with families, building washrooms, holding babies, or spending time with the people who were on the SLT with me, this was an amazing opportunity that I would do over and over again.

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Isabelle Holt
Cornell University

I loved learning about the patients MEDLIFE has followed and how they offer real help to people with chronic/urgent conditions. It is amazing how the organization formed real connections with the communities.

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Valerie Lindeborg

Our family had the privilege of participating in multiple trips with Nick [founder] and his amazing staff. Their expertise made the trips unforgettable while instilling in my boys the fundamentals of good character: selflessness, compassion, and empathy.

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Harry Vildibill
University of Georgia

As an aspiring physician, MEDLIFE motivated me to further continue my goal of becoming a doctor. In fact, I enjoyed the Tanzania Service Learning Trip so much that I decided to go on another trip to Cusco, Peru.