Two days ago I went out to the bateyes with a Dominican doctor, two nurses and a health promoter. We set up shop in an unused classroom in a school in the middle of the sugar cane fields and waited for people in the bateyes to line up to see a doctor. From 10am to 2pm, the mobile clinic team saw close to 50 patients of all ages, with varying degrees of sickness and aches and pains. This was the first time the team worked in this particular bateye, called Altagracia, named after the patron saint of the Dominican Republic, and they will return in one month’s time to follow up on the community.
When we were driving through the sugar cane fields to reach Altagracia, I reflected on how, for many people living in the bateyes and in many places in the developing world, accessing healthcare is an extraordinary task. To see a doctor, one must not only have the funds to pay for the consult, the tests and the medicines necessary to treat them, they must also find a way to get there. For people living literally in the midst of the sugar cane fields, transportation is one of the most difficult hurdles to get past. So, people live for months and in many cases years without treating medical illnesses. These illnesses seriously affect quality of life for children as well as adults. For children in developing countries, however, it is not only a lack of access to care that makes them vulnerable, but also an underlying presence of poor nutrition that makes them especially at risk for dying from a preventable illness.
In Altagracia, as in many other bateyes, malnutrition is a product of poor sanitation, an insufficient water supply and poverty. Children that grow up with chronic malnourishment will be affected by an increased burden of disease and the effects of stunted growth when they are older, which will in turn make them less able to work and provide a different life for their own children, a vicious cycle.
Luckily, only a few of the children that the team treated in Altagracia were below weight, and none of them were suffering from acute malnutrition. When the team returns, they will follow the children and ensure that they are still above weight, and if not, they will provide nutrition packets designed to improve nutrition for those individual children.
Nevertheless, as we were driving out of the bateye, into the picturesque sugar cane fields once again, I couldn’t help but think about what it would be like not to be able to afford the bus ride to my doctor, or be unable to find the funds to buy a prescription medicine I might need.
The truth is, I will probably never know. All I can do is try not to forget the people who do.