“The clinic is 30 kilometers away, the bus runs only once a day, but even in town there is no cardiologist to consult with. I cannot afford medicines. We have not received proper health care for more than two years since the conflict started. Without the support provided by the mobile team, I cannot imagine how I would survive,” said Haylna, a 70-year-old woman from Synykha Village, Ukraine.
COVID-19 & Access to Health Care
Prior to 2020, health care metrics including life expectancy were increasing on a global scale. Nonetheless, lower-income and lower-middle-income countries showed slower progress than upper-middle-income and high-income countries. The impact of this disparity became very clear during the pandemic as only 12% of people in lower-income countries and 51% of people in lower-middle-income countries had been fully vaccinated by April 2022. On the other hand, 74% of people in high-income and upper-middle-income countries had been vaccinated in the same period.
The source of the disparity lay in access to health care services. This refers to how many existing health facilities could continue running, the availability of staff, the availability of diagnostic tools, the supply of medicine and the overall capacity of health infrastructure. In every category, lower-income and lower-middle-income countries fall behind. During the pandemic, there was such severe disruption of their health care systems, that even the treatment of common illnesses became an issue, according to a WHO report. This has also been true in other crises such as conflict and natural disasters and it is in these cases that mobile clinics have made their impact.
Mobile Clinics & Crisis Response
Some common features of crises include population displacement, damaged health infrastructure and restricted or completely cut-off access to health care services. As a result, the deployment of mobile clinics has become a common strategy used to improve access to health care during humanitarian crises. Mobile clinics primarily provide vaccination, health screenings and health promotion services.
Some of the countries in which mobile clinics have been deployed include Haiti to promote antenatal care, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to improve the health of gender-based violence victims and Afghanistan where rural and internally displaced people can access health services.
Mobile Clinics Extending Access to Health Care
Mobile clinics are a necessary extension of health care services in remote areas where health care infrastructure may be sparse. In these areas, the demand is rising due to the flexibilty offered and potential reach. For example in 2018, non-governmental organizations in Syria leveraged 44 mobile clinics, providing care for residents in isolated locations.
In addition to health services such as outpatient counseling, health education as well as the management of non-communicable diseases, there are other potential services mobile clinics can provide such as water and sanitation services, nutritional services in food insecure places and early warning and system response to disease outbreaks.
Launched in 2014, the main goal of the Beyond Zero campaign is to provide affordable access to health care to vulnerable groups in Kenya, focusing on maternal health and the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission. It is an initiative that combines the efforts of the government and the private sector through advocacy and mobilization.
Between 2014 and 2017, the campaign donated a minimum of one mobile clinic to each of the 47 counties in Kenya. The mobile clinics also serve as a base for outreach to even more isolated areas specifically to the nomadic communities of the northern region. Some of the services provided include antenatal care, immunization, cervical cancer screening, minor surgery services and the treatment of minor illnesses.
Growing demand has inspired research and development in order to improve the effectiveness of mobile clinics. Various public and private organizations have emerged across the world viewing mobile clinics not just as crisis response tools but as the innovation of an alternative health care model. As a business venture, it provides a potential solution to achieving universal access to health care at an affordable financial cost both to the patient and to the investor.
– Kena Irungu
Photo: Wikimedia Commons