Health a Hot Topic in Upcoming Election in Ecuador

CorreaAs the February 17th presidential election approaches in Ecuador, many are taking a longer, reflective glance at what President Rafael Correa has achieved since he took office in early 2007.

A recent Reuters article reports, “Correa has won broad popular support by expanding access to healthcare, doubling state spending on education and turning rough dirt paths into proper paved roads.” It also notes that, according to the government, Correa has “built 18 hospitals and 250 health centers across the nation.”

Indeed, Correa – who describes himself as “left-wing” – has made it a top priority to increase spending on social projects. Many believe Correa is on track to winning the upcoming election.

Yet, implementation of Correa’s health care plans has been slow. Like many other countries in Latin America, Ecuador’s health care system is taxed by overwhelming demand and a lack of resources. Since the country began providing free public health services in 2007, it has struggled to keep up with a growing body of patients; MEDLIFE staff members in Ecuador have often seen residents begin lining up hours before dawn in order to seek medical treatment.

The health system in Ecuador is comprised of a private and public sector, with the public sector guaranteeing, as stated in the revised 2008 Constitution, “permanent and timely access, without exception, to all comprehensive health care programs and services” for all citizens. However, overall, this covers the health care of only 51 percent of the Ecuadorian population, according to a June 2011 paper by the Ministry of Social Development in Quito, the nation’s capital.

The government funds 47 percent of outpatient and hospital services in the nation, in addition to the nation’s largest hospitals for referrals. But according to World Health Organization (WHO) standards, there should be between 8 and 10 hospital beds available per thousand people. The number of available beds in the Ecuadorian hospital system in 2011 was only 1.7 per thousand; many hospitals remain at full capacity.

MEDLIFE’s work in Ecuador has also changed under Correa. On the one hand, better government coverage of medical costs helps lift the financial burden on low-income families, as well as on MEDLIFE as an organization. On the other, quality is often poor and waits may be extremely long. A 2011 Wall Street Journal article said there were, at that time, “4,500 people on waiting lists for surgery.”

These problems are evident in this excerpt from a recent blog post written about a current MEDLIFE patient in Ecuador:

Jose’s first consultation for his condition was the entire family’s first visit to a hospital. It then took three months to schedule a surgery for him.

A nurse walks by and says the doctor has arrived at the hospital. He is the only pediatric surgeon, working four days a week, and it is obvious. Dozens of families rise to their feet at the news, standing around the exam room door, silently hovering in a semi-circle of anticipation. Eventually, people grow tired and sit back down.

When patients are referred within the public system for treatment, many times they still fail to receive the treatments they need due to lack of resources, lack of confidence, cultural insensitivity, or a lack of understanding about how to navigate the system. For all of these reasons, MEDLIFE’s role of advocating on behalf of our patients has become even more important.

You can read more about MEDLIFE’s patient follow-up process here.


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

The most enjoyable part of my trip was hanging out with the amazing group of kids I was with. I would highly recommend a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to others.

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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

Being involved with MEDLIFE is not like joining another club - its bigger than that. It is about joining a movement that seeks to help change people’s quality of life for forever.

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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.