“Doctors seem like a profession that shouldn’t go on strike,” once said a wise person. To many, this statement may seem almost comical—it’s absurd, doctors on strike?—Never. To others it comes with a sense of unrest and disappointment. Currently, doctors in all of Peru have been on an indefinite strike since the 13th of May, fighting for better working conditions, more funding, and equal rights. There are times that I have difficulty understanding how doctors, a profession meant to serve the ill, could go on an indefinite strike and hope their movement will bring better access to medical care. At times I feel it is hypocritical. This is me with my western lens, coming from a place where doctors swear by oath to treat the ill, where the government treats their doctors well, and access to healthcare is not threatening the lives of a majority of the population. This is the doctor’s proposal:
“Faced with the government's proposal that pushes for health to be a business and that does not help those excluded from health services, FOROSALUD and FENUTSSA note the following:
1. We reject the intention to confront the health workers by the healthcare users and patients. We are committed to social articulation and joint defense of the right to health.
2. THE RIGHT TO HEALTH SHOULD BE UNIVERSAL, namely only the people with their identification cards have access to health services.
3. THE RIGHT TO HEALTH MUST BE COMPREHENSIVE, which means that the system must meet all the health needs of all 30 million Peruvians.
4. THE RIGHT TO HEALTH SHOULD BE JOINTLY FUNDED through a public fund integrated with a public budget increase to 8% of the GDP.
5. Modification of practices in health emphasizing PREVENTIVE AND PROMOTIONAL ACTIVITIES.
6. STANDARDIZATION OF RATES FOR SERVICES CONTRACTED BY THE STATE, regulation to the profits of health care institutions in the private sector.
7. DECENT PAY AND WORKING CONDITIONS for professionals, technicians, assistants, healthcare administrators, and all appointed and hired Peruvian health system workers.”
Loreto is the largest department of Peru and is home to the entirety of the Peruvian Amazon. Its massive landscape is sparsely populated with zero road access to connect the communities. This geographic isolation accentuates the inequality for the access of healthcare to the rural and impoverished people of the Peruvian Amazon.
A travel of at least 50 miles by river, a several days journey, may be necessary for a patient to see a general physician in the Amazon. The only specialty doctors in the department work in the hospitals in Iquitos. Thus, if a patient needs more than general attention, a surgery or specialty service, a travel of 2-3 weeks may be necessary to seek care, depending on their geographical isolation from Iquitos. Those 2-3 weeks are spent away from working the chakra or farm, typically one’s lively hood and only source of income and nutrition. For nearly all of the ribereñas—those who live on the rivers—this is not an option and the sick must simply live with their illness. Those who choose to take the journey are often left penniless and stranded upon arriving to the medical centers—this is a cause worth fighting for.
While emergency services are still available, it has been reported by the Peruvian Medical Federation (FMP) and the Ministry of Health (MoH) that since the beginning of the strike, over half a million health queries have not been addressed, more than 50,000 surgeries have not been performed, and nearly 30,000 patients in outpatient clinics have stopped being attended to. Now, allow for a brief moment to contemplate those numbers.
Here in Iquitos, CGCHealth works with the Ministry of Health in the Centro de Salud 6 de Octubre in a district called Belén. We operate within the health clinic by working alongside doctors and speaking with patients diagnosed with intestinal illnesses due to drinking contaminated water. These patients are given the opportunity to attend a 4-day health education course and receive a water filter upon completion of the course. There are not any doctors to work with, currently. While this leaves us without the ability to get clean water directly to the people who need it most imminently, people within the community of Belén have been seeking out CGCHealth to receive what is rightfully theirs; clean water.
Even while doctors are attending patients there are many residents of Belén and other more distant communities that are never able to receive medical attention due to their lack of identification cards. This strike has given CGCHealth team members time to work with RENIEC, the national registry for identification cards, to begin registering those who are unregistered.
While it is difficult to stand by the side of the doctors and watch unattended patients suffer, it is equally as difficult to not support their fight.
Written by Chase Hamilton