We continue our series which uncovers social issues in Guatemala, and how volunteers can help shape the country's future. This week we take a look at Guatemala's healthcare system.
Healthcare in Guatemala
Guatemala is an incredibly beautiful and diverse country, but one that faces deep poverty. It has the 4th highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and one of the highest infant mortality rates. Major causes of death include treatable diseases, such as diarrohea, pneumonia, malnutrition and tuberculosis.
Yet the health system has been eroded by a lack of government funding, leaving public hospitals and clinics without essential supplies. This has particularly affected the Maya indigenous families living in rural areas, where often private healthcare is beyond their means. A lack of specialists in rural areas, with over 80% of doctors working in Guatemala City, has left this section of society vulnerable and in need of help.
Organisations working on the frontline
In Guatemala, as in many developing countries, there is a patchwork of different healthcare providers from public and private to somewhere in between. Many independent organisations are set up to provide patient care directly, and operate much like a regular hospital, with surgeries, disease screening and dispensing of medical supplies. There are also organisations that focus solely on health campaigns, from educating communities on sanitation, to how to get the most nutritional value from available food.
Their unifying aim is to transform the lives of local communities, and the work they do is invaluable.
What you can do
There are various organisations in Guatemala which seek volunteers with medical backgrounds, from doctors and nurses, to dentists, nutritionists and project co-ordinators. As well as a need for medical professionals, there is also a need for those with project management experience to assit health organisations in running more effectively. Some organisations are also open to the idea of volunteers organising and implementing their own projects.
Here are a few volunteering programmes which you can get involved with:
International Medical Relief - Projects assisting remote and underserved communities in Guatemala. Especially focuses on patients with GI and respiratory diseases, eye and skin infections and those with little or no prenatal care.
Spanish Marks - Our school is connected to a network of hospitals and clinics across Guatemala. Volunteering opportunites can be tailored to your skills and the needs of the host organisation, from helping to set up educational healthcare campaigns to working side-by-side with local surgeons. Spanish lessons are included.
Maximo Nivel - specialises in volunteering opportunities for medical university students.