Summer 2016, Second Year Medical Student
Travelling to the rural clinic in Samborondon, Ecuador, was not unlike our commute to other clinics. We drove at breakneck speed down highways dotted with farm stands and small houses built into the incredible natural beauty of coastal Ecuador. The chaos of the early morning traffic stood in stark contrast to the serenity of the quiet rice paddies framed by misty blue mountains.
When we arrived at the clinic, a huge crowd of people stood chanting and pounding on the chain-link fence of the small building. Our driver, unfazed by the situation, whipped us around the back of the building to avoid the mob. As we climbed out of the van and ran across a field to access the clinic from the back, we asked our driver about the protest but received little clarification. We were quickly informed that we would not be working in the clinic and were taken to an off-site location to work with a public health team to inspect private water supplies. Although many of the clinic workers tried to conceal the cause of the protest, we eventually learned that the town was upset by the lack of access to health care. The lack of available doctors made waiting room visits extremely long and check-ups superficial.
Although that was our only experience with an organized protest, the angry sentiment of the Ecuadorian people toward the health care system pervaded our trip. Their health care system is roughly divided into free public health care and private health care where patients pay out-of-pocket. Many Ecuadorians do not have the financial freedom to access private health care which is objectively better quality care. Our experiences in Ecuador largely took place in public clinics where access and quality of care suffered from the lack of funding: doctors limited annual examinations to quick verbal interviews, clinical supplies were shared or simply unavailable, and health care professionals are overworked and underpaid.
I am grateful for the opportunity to observe and learn in the Ecuador. As students, we were unable to contribute in a meaningful way to the vast need for health care in the country. In the future, I hope to return to this beautiful country and spend some time as a doctor supporting the clinics and people that helped us learn while dealing with the many health care issues they deal with on a daily basis.