Today I stopped by the local Centro de Salud for a fairly routine check up, on my way back from my walk up in the mountains outside the town. As I entered the outdoor patio, I noticed that it seemed unusually packed with people and I thought maybe I should come back. One of my three friends who works at the Centro, Doña Lola, saw me and came over to give me a hug. She explained quickly that there was a presentation going on; there was a grave situation in the country concerning the health care system and that they were presenting some information to the people in the community. She invited me to stay and said that once the talk was over she would make sure that I got attended to. The room was filled with women of all ages, most with a child or two and several with a bun in the oven, as we say and some men; more women than men, which is probably not atypical as women are more likely to be the ones responsible for taking care of the children's health care needs; as they are the ones who bear children, they are more likely to visit the clinic during their childbearing years; and in general women are more likely than men to seek medical treatment when they have any kind of ailment or discomfort. There were several women, some barely more than girls, with small babies wrapped on their backs or across their chests in servilletas, or bouncing on their laps. Some older women also had babies or toddlers in tow, undoubtedly grandmothers or great-grandmothers.
So I squeezed myself into a corner and listened. Listened without understanding much for the first several minutes as the Centro de Salud employee who was giving the talk spoke first in K'iche' and then later gave a summary in Spanish. Most of the people who use the Centro de Salud are Maya although there are some poor Ladinos/as who use it as well, but most of the prosperous Ladinos in town use private doctors. The key points of the presentation were that there is a grave crisis in health care: severe shortages in basic medical supplies and medications. So the health care centers are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but the health care workers feel bad, guilty and full of regret when people come for services and they have to send them away without the necessary medications because they simply don't have them here. The young man who spoke said that sometimes people would leave the center carrying prescriptions that the center would have to give them instead of the medications themselves, since they didn't have medications to give in most cases and that the people would sometimes throw the prescriptions down on the ground outside or tear them up and curse out the workers at the health center, saying "Oh, they just don't want to work" and whatever else they might be saying. But, he said, the problem wasn't with the local health center, the problem was in the ministry of health. And so that when the Minister or the President or another government official went on TV or on the news and said that the centros de salud were fine, that the health care system was working, that was a lie. That when they said there were ample supplies of medications, that was a lie. He said that they had injections, for example, but no syringes with which to give them.
He added that he had gotten a call recently to go and pick up a shipment of medications and that they had borrowed a car to do the pick up. He was worried that maybe the car wasn't big enough. But, he said, when they got there, all they found was about as much medication as would fit into the baskets that everyone here uses to go and get their vegetables in the market. Just one small box -- medication that would last for two or three weeks, and then what?
He urged people to start listening to the news and make sure they knew what was going on. "At noon today, turn on Radio Sonora (one of the all news stations) instead of listening to music. If you have a television, instead of watching the novela (soap opera), watch the news." There were some questions (but those were mostly in K'iche' at the beginning) and then he finished and folks started to move and get their numbers for appointments and so forth.