It is not until I left the US, a nation of comfort I call home, that I realized the expanding world around me was not the pretty picture I imagined it to be. Arriving at the airport in Lima to aid as a medical volunteer was an opportunity I was excited to be apart of. However the city I stayed in, Miraflores, was an illusion to the crumbling healthcare system in Peru.
As they took us to a small village in the outskirts of Lima, I couldn’t help but notice the dwindling resources with every passing mile of the city. Roads were now dirt paths as buildings turned into shacks. Upon arrival in the small village of Cono Sur, we were greeted by the local physicians who helped us setup the medical aid tent where we would provide clinical services to the already growing line of locals waiting patiently outside. Setting up a medical tent feet away from dog feces was distasteful in itself, as I could point out more than a handful of HIPAA violations within the first half an hour of my volunteering. From improper sterilization to the questionably unsanitized patient chairs, the facility in itself was a harbinger for disease. I worked as an assistant to Dr. Sanchez, a young physician who tirelessly treated the assembly line of patients. From the many cases that came through the door, a common diagnosis of many villagers was a lungworm,as a result of bacterial infection. After scribbling a prescription to be taken to the pharmacy tent next door, Dr. Sanchez bid farewell with a cautionary “look out for your health”. In a village where young kids shared kisses with stray dogs and Inca Kola was more readily accessible than drinking water, looking out for one’s health was not much of an option. It was inevitable; there was only so much time before they would get sick again.
Leaving the village that evening to the sound of locals playing the pachango by the street corner and young children shimmying to the merengue under the faintly lit lights, the future health of these vibrant youths seemed just as dim. In a country where there was a clear divide between the haves and have nots, the wealthy would be healthy while the sick would get sicker. It is these health discrepancies that must be addressed for a community to move forward. Whether it is due to a lack of necessary resources or the inability of a government to provide basic healthcare for its people, sickness will continue progressing as improvement continues to stagnate. There is no use hiring a selfless physician to water the empty Peruvian soil. A seed of reform must first be planted in order for the villagers of Cono Sur to one day flourish.