COVID-19 in Quito
COVID-19 has ravaged the entire world, and each country has experienced the pandemic and suffered losses in its own way. However, the pandemic has a very unique impact on under-resourced countries than it does on developed countries. The New York Times reported that the death toll in Ecuador from the novel coronavirus is among the worst in the world, and the nation became an epicenter in Latin America for the deadly disease. By August 12, 2021, Ecuador recorded 493,767 cases and 31,870 deaths due to COVID-19. Many people suspect that the actual numbers of cases and deaths are much higher. Because Ecuador is a small country with a population of around 17 million people, these figures are extremely high. Here is some information about COVID-19 in Quito, Ecuador, a community that has faced significant challenges due to the pandemic, as well as the teacher who is making a difference.

Health care System in Quito

The health care system in Quito was extremely limited before the pandemic. The public health system in Ecuador lacked capabilities to facilitate contact tracing, appropriate screening and isolation measures and early detection measures. A lack of emergency response preparation and PPE equipment added to the inability of public hospitals to maintain safe conditions and keep up with the influx of patients. Additionally, Ecuador did not receive sufficient supplies of vaccines, and therefore, struggled to roll out vaccines to frontline workers and vulnerable populations in a timely manner. When the virus hit Quito, hospitals became quickly overwhelmed, forcing most people to seek care in tents outside them.

This was the case for Pilar Salazar, a middle-aged teacher from Comite del Pueblo, an impoverished neighborhood in Northern Quito, who shared her story in an interview with The Borgen Project. When her mother fell sick with the flu, Pilar took her to the hospital, where she received treatment in a tent in the cold outside, without space to distance from other patients. Her mother contracted COVID-19 at the hospital and subsequently gave it to Pilar, her primary caretaker.

Pilar then spent the next two months quarantined in her bedroom with pneumonia developed from COVID-19, unable to go to the hospital because of overcrowding. Her husband passed her oxygen tanks and food through her window while she recovered, unsure if she would survive. This story is not unique during the period of COVID-19 in Quito. Due to a lack of education and infrastructure, COVID-19 ravaged Quito and other Ecuadorian cities. Many of Pilar’s friends and her entire immediate family contracted the virus at some point in 2021, and she still feels damage in her lungs.

Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Ecuador

COVID-19 also deeply impacted Quito economically. The GDP in Ecuador was at risk of dropping 11% from the year 2019 to the year 2020. As one of the more underserved neighborhoods in Quito, Comite del Pueblo was particularly vulnerable to economic decline. When the after-school tutoring foundation that Pilar taught at closed down due to COVID-19, she had deep concern for the 40+ students she taught.

In March 2020, the Ecuadorian government implemented a national school closure. This mandate, still in effect today, affected around 4.5 million Ecuadorian school-aged children.

Pilar explained that without somewhere to go during school hours and after school, children are susceptible to abuse at home and drug trafficking in the area. When the foundation closed, some of her students lost their only place to catch up in school and receive direct homework help, while others lost their only meal of the day. This is the reality of the economic downturn and school shutdowns in an underdeveloped neighborhood during the COVID-19 pandemic in Quito.

Pilar’s Solution

In response to these immense challenges, Pilar has begun renovating a building in her neighborhood on her own to open a foundation for the children in her neighborhood. She is one example of many ways in which people have responded to COVID-19 in Quito with resilience. She said that she wants them to have a safe space to go, to study and succeed away from home and the traumas of daily life.

– Abigail Meyer
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in EcuadorHome to the Galapagos Islands and where the equator runs right through, Ecuador is also home to an extremely impoverished population, where 21.5% live beneath the poverty line. In a country where many people struggle to get their daily needs met, long-maintained and accessible healthcare in Ecuador gets set on the back burner. This can exacerbate the obstacles the population faces in seeking wellness alongside food insecurity and sanitation.

The national healthcare in Ecuador was first deployed in 1967, where it floundered in providing reliable and efficient coverage for its population. Spanning the time between 1992 and 2006, Ecuador underwent eight national governments. This lack of stability created a turbulent socio-political landscape. It ended up wounding the efficacy of the various infrastructural sectors, including health. The Constitution of 2008 declares health to be a right. This supports the moral tenants on which its publicly integrated healthcare system operates, those being the universality and equity of it.

Ecuador spends 9.16% of its GDP on health. This number grew from spending $1.153 billion in 2010 to spending $2.570 billion in 2015. For comparison, the United States, a much wealthier nation, spends about 17.7% as a health expenditure, which amounts to about $3.6 trillion.

The State of Health

Deficiency diseases, which are common in places that struggle with food and nutrition security, along with infectious diseases and degenerative conditions are prevalent within the population. The most common health issues tend to arise from vehicular accidents and assaults.

The World Health Organization measures an efficient healthcare system. It is according to population health, equality in healthcare, the responsiveness of the system, the distribution of a responsive system and the responsible allocation of healthcare expenditures. Ecuador is still making strides in all of these criteria.

Additionally, the healthcare system itself lacks consistency, as those delivering care struggle to coordinate. The classification of different sub-sets within the umbrella of healthcare is also poorly defined. Each healthcare institution has its own structure, management and funds. They can make for unequal care for the people depending on their varying circumstances.

The Healthcare System

Furthermore, Ecuador has two kinds of healthcare: private and public. The public sector includes Social Security and other government institutions such as the Armed Forces and the National Police. There are also private organizations that work within the public sector such as the Cancer Society and Ecuadorian Red Cross.

Also, the national budget, funds that come from outside of the budget, outside agreements and organizations and emergency funds all subsidize public healthcare. Meanwhile, private organizations selling their service to the public health sector, private health insurers and pre-paid health insurance bankroll the private health sector. Private insurers and pre-paid insurers cover 3% of the middle to high-income population.

The Country Takes Action

Fortunately, the country is fighting to create a healthcare system that works for and is accessible to everyone in Ecuador. This includes the poorest and most vulnerable communities. As a result, the Ecuador Ministry of Public Health decided to deploy healthcare in Ecuador that prioritizes primary care. The number of those covered by the healthcare system has been rising. In 2007, the number was just 1,518,164, which rose to 3,123,467 as of 2014.

Overall, healthcare in Ecuador has been improving throughout the years. However, as of June, Ecuador clocked in at one of the highest per-capita COVID-19 death rates in the world. Ecuador’s developing healthcare system struggles to keep up with the pandemic. In the meantime, organizations like Direct Relief are sending donations and resources to Ecuador. They attempt to triage the economic damage and loss of life that will be wrought. The nation continues to build a more robust, sustained infrastructure. Such relief is being used to fill in gaps where Ecuador may have been struggling with preventative measures, such as protective clothing and clinics.

– Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr