Homelessness in UruguayUruguay is located on the eastern coast of South America and is known for being one of the most democratic and financially prosperous countries in the region. While Uruguay has made great economic progress since the early 2000s — which has significantly reduced poverty — the country continues to struggle with homelessness. With this in mind, many NGOs and institutions are working to combat this issue. This article will present five facts about homelessness in Uruguay’s capital city and how this issue is being combated.

5 Facts About Homelessness in Uruguay

  1. Homelessness is concentrated in urban areas. Homelessness in Uruguay is concentrated within the country’s larger cities, notably in Montevideo, which is the capital and largest city.

  2. The homeless population in Montevideo is increasing. According to a 2020 survey by the Ministry of Social Development, 2,553 people in Montevideo experienced homelessness. The data found that an estimated 885 people were living outdoors, while 1,668 were in shelters. Compared to data from 2019, there was a 25% increase in unsheltered individuals.

  3. The Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) is working to combat homelessness. Known in Spanish as Ministerio de Desarrollo Social de Uruguay, MIDES has been paying attention to the issue of homelessness in Uruguay. One way they addressed the issue was by creating the Homelessness Attention Programme. This program focuses on improving homeless shelters and connecting people living outdoors with the shelter system. There are roughly 36 designated homeless centers for adults in Montevideo. These centers often offer dinner, breakfast and an area for washing clothes.

  4.  Montevideo’s local government is turning abandoned houses into shelters. Along with various institutions operating throughout the nation, Montevideo’s local government has also taken steps to combat homelessness. In 2019, the government implemented a plan to restore and convert abandoned houses into social care centers. These centers focus on women who are victims of domestic violence along with individuals who suffer from substance abuse issues. Since domestic violence and drug abuse are among the top causes of homelessness, these centers have contributed greatly to addressing homelessness’s roots.

  5. The citizens of Montevideo are also working to combat homelessness. Every night in Montevideo — particularly during the colder season — an estimated 16 groups from various universities and churches take to the streets and pass out meals to the people living outdoors. Roughly 500 people participate every night to hand out more than 1,900 meals. Volunteers use donated goods from churches and businesses to cook the food that is subsequently distributed.

Homelessness in Uruguay is an issue that continues to affect the most vulnerable groups. Nonetheless, governments and citizens alike have taken important steps in identifying and tackling the issue.

– Timothy Ginter
Photo: Flickr

How Uruguay Was Prepared to Combat COVID-19Uruguay is a small country in South America bordering Brazil and Argentina. The country has a population of nearly 3.5 million people and has solved many poverty issues that still plague other South American countries. Uruguay’s life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality rates, literacy rate and health system capacity are all at or near the levels of those statistics in the United States and Western Europe. The country’s situation today as a high-income country is a direct result of its unique history. Through Uruguay’s economic standing and prepared response to the pandemic, the country was prepared to combat COVID-19.

Uruguay’s History and Financial Situation

Uruguay, despite being located in South America, is more comparable to countries in Europe and not without reason. In the pre-colonial era, the entire region likely had a population of only around 10,000. Diseases brought by the first settlers in the 17th century killed most of that small population and so the area was left largely empty save for a few scattered groups of native people. After more than a century of fighting over the territory between colonial powers, Uruguay gained independence in 1830 and began to become a modern state by the 1870s.

In the late 19th century, hundreds of thousands of Europeans emigrated to Uruguay, bringing with them economic connections to the continent as well as better agricultural knowledge which kickstarted the country’s economy. Throughout the 20th century, despite some political conflicts, Uruguay made strides at becoming a developed country and brought its extreme poverty rate to the single digits. Since the early 2000s, the country has seen significant reductions in poverty and large improvements in healthcare capability and overall quality of life.

In a span of just 12 years from 2006 to 2018, the poverty rate in Uruguay decreased from more than 30% to 8%, while the extreme poverty rate went from 2.5% to 0.1%. Uruguay diversified its economy from one mostly reliant on its neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, to splitting its most important trade partners four ways, with China and the European Union becoming its two largest partners. Its success in creating a working, safe democracy in the 21st century has opened up the country as a popular tourism destination and tourism now accounts for nearly 10% of Uruguay’s GDP. Uruguay maintains the largest middle class in the Americas consisting of more than 60% of its population, fueling economic growth as most people in the country hold savings and can afford to buy consumer goods.

Uruguay’s Prepared Response to COVID-19

All of Uruguay’s recent economic success has allowed the country to create a well-functioning healthcare system capable of keeping its citizens healthy. Its history and geographical small size have led the country to be prepared to combat COVID-19. Uruguay’s health system, a mix of public and private care which also allows the lowest-income residents of the country to get high-quality care at low or zero-cost, was prepared to handle a crisis. Broad support for the government meant that at the start of the pandemic, citizens trusted their public health officials and followed the guidelines they put out.

The Uruguayan health system, unlike most others in South America, also had the capability to make its own COVID-19 PCR tests from the start of the pandemic—allowing public health officials to contact trace early cases. In May, when a region of Uruguay bordering Brazil saw a small outbreak, the public health response was immediate. As described by Dr. Rafael Radi, the coordinator of Uruguay’s scientific advisory group, “Within 24 hours there was a contingent of people—epidemiologists, nurses, physicians went to Treinta y Tres to completely follow the transmission chain, test every single person and follow up the contacts of the contacts.” Such strong measures make it difficult for the virus to gain a hold in the country.

Despite being located right next to Brazil, a COVID-19 hotspot, Uruguay was able to combat COVID-19 and reopen its internal economy quickly. Masks are required indoors and on public transport and are encouraged everywhere else. Most schools and universities in the country are open with in-person classes. To date, Uruguay has reported fewer than 3,000 cases of COVID-19 and 52 deaths. Already achieving high-income status, if Uruguay can continue its economic growth post-COVID-19 and improve its education system to train its youth for the future, the country is well on its way to being a truly developed nation on par with other small countries like Singapore and Ireland.

Jeff Keare
Photo: Flickr

poverty in Uruguay
Uruguay, a country situated on the Atlantic coast, is the second smallest country on the continent. With a population of more than 3.4 million and about 60% of them comprising the middle class, Uruguay stands as one of the most economically stable countries in the region. In fact, Uruguay has the lowest poverty rate in South America and ranks high on such well-being indices as the Human Development Index. In building a secure place as a country, Uruguay has witnessed improvements as well as hindrances in various aspects of its society. Here are six facts about poverty in Uruguay.

6 Facts About Poverty in Uruguay

  1. Life is Improving: The percentage of the population living on less than $3.20 per day in Uruguay significantly decreased from 2006 to 2017. While the rate peaked at 3.7% in 2006, it dropped to 0.4% by 2017. In accordance with the near eradication of extreme poverty, the moderate poverty in Uruguay also decreased from 32.5% in 2006 to 8.1% in 2018.
  2. Child Labor: In Uruguay, child labor affects 8% of the 8 to 14-year-olds. These children work long hours for low wages. In order to make meager earnings to financially support their families, many children in Uruguay forgo school education to work under unfavorable conditions. There has been little progress to reduce child labor, as the percentage of children from 5 to 14 years old in the workforce remained at a relatively constant rate of 6.1% in 2016. Nonetheless, certain organizations like the Telefónica Foundation have been working to raise awareness of and prevent child labor in Uruguay. One program under the organization is ProChild, which emerged in 2000 and has developed since then to include a network of 10,000 participants. Another organization that helps children shift out of labor is the MIDES Youth Affairs Bureau. It employs various programs that keep children from entering the workforce at a young age by implementing education services and training.
  3. Higher Quality of Water Sanitation: With the help of the World Bank Group, Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE) is now able to provide drinking water to 98% of Uruguayans. In previous years, there had been a chronic shortage of water supply and sanitation services in Uruguay due to the combined effect of low labor productivity and severe floods and droughts. However, with financial support from the World Bank Group, OSE has been able to significantly reduce water loss and continue its upward trajectory of water and sanitation quality.
  4. Decrease in Unemployment: In 2002, Uruguay experienced an economic crisis that significantly impacted the country and created widespread unemployment, However, the unemployment rate decreased significantly over the next decade. Estimates determined it was 7.6% in 2017 and this number remains low to this day. Still, the unemployment rate among the young generation has not fared well and continues to rise.
  5. Equitable Income Levels: There are still disproportionate rates of child and afro-descendent-Uruguayan populations living below the national poverty. However, income levels, in general, have seen improvements. Among the poorest 40% of the population, average income levels have risen faster in comparison to the entire population’s average growth rates.
  6. Low Gender Inequality: The labor market participation ratio between female and male workers in Uruguay is the fourth highest in Latin America. Although the salary gap still exists, as in many of the OECD countries, there has been a steady flow of both female and male laborers into the workforce of Uruguay.


Multiple organizations have stepped up to address and improve the issue of poverty in Uruguay. One such organization is Caritas, which works to provide aid for the poor, from those who have been deprived of liberty to those who lack access to education. Especially through education, training and counseling, the organization has been able to help the most vulnerable groups in Uruguay to cope with their challenging situations.

Despite the recent progress made toward the issue of poverty in Uruguay, certain fundamental limitations in the funding of systems like infrastructure and education have constrained the maximum potential for growth. Certain groups like children and women remain more vulnerable to poverty. Nevertheless, the government has successfully implemented policies and efforts to close the gap between classes over the past years. Now, Uruguay stands on par with many other well-positioned countries around the world with relatively little aid from organizations.

Seunghee Han
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in UruguayWhen people think of the small South American nation of Uruguay, its healthcare system is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Despite its obscurity, Uruguay has played a pioneering role in the development of South American medical standards and other countries have followed the example set by its exemplary healthcare system. What is this system, and why do many think it works so well?

Private and Public Care

Healthcare in Uruguay consists of two main systems: private hospitals run by private enterprises, and public hospitals run by government organizations.

In choosing their healthcare provider, many Uruguayans opt for one of the private Mutualista plans, which function like a membership to a private hospital. With Mutualista plans, a person might pay around $100 monthly to have access to the services of a private hospital.

 The Mutualista system of healthcare in Uruguay differs from many healthcare systems in other countries because it does not operate as health insurance, but rather as a membership plan to a hospital that has neither deductibles nor a lifetime cap.

Uruguay also has a public healthcare system, which is most often referred to as the Administración de Los Servicios de Salud del Estado, or the ASSE. The ASSE healthcare plans work similarly to Mutualista plans, but with one crucial difference: for poor and low-income patients, medical care costs nothing.

Uruguay’s public health system provides broad access to older individuals and those with pre-existing conditions. As long as an individual has an Uruguayan ID card, they can access the public healthcare system in Uruguay.

Who Chooses Which Plan?

Wealthier individuals tend to choose the Mutualista plans of private hospitals over the coverage of public hospitals because public hospitals have “generally lower” service standards. However, this in no way signifies that Uruguay’s public hospitals provide poor care. In fact, many public hospitals operate through universities that employ expert clinicians, allowing those hospitals to provide specialized treatments.

Together, the combination of public and private healthcare systems provides a large variety of care options for Uruguayan citizens and allows them to choose the system that best suits their medical needs and economic status.

Care for Uruguay’s Poor

As it provides free care to low-income patients, Uruguay’s public health system ensures that all citizens receive care. By providing universal care, Uruguay dramatically improves the health of the nation by making sure that no individual goes without necessary medical treatment simply because they cannot afford it.

For most low-income individuals, healthcare in Uruguay comes at little to no cost. Because of this, Uruguay’s public ASSE healthcare functions as a “safety net” for low-income individuals who cannot afford the luxury of private health services. This expansion of care to all may explain why life expectancy is steadily increasing, currently standing at 73.2 years and 80.2 years for men and women respectively, an uptick from 70.4 years and 78.4 years respectively between 1996 and 2000.

Of note, the country has made considerable strides in attacking poverty, as measured by income, which fell from 39.9% in 2004 to 9.7% in 2014. Likewise, extreme poverty declined from 4.7% to 0.3% during the same decade.

High Quality

Many consider Uruguay’s healthcare system to be among the best because it employs 5.08 physicians per 1,000 people, which makes it one of the most well-staffed systems in the entire world. Uruguayan hospitals also offer a good variety of medical drugs and make it easy for patients to get the medications they need. Besides this, the Uruguayan healthcare system even offers mobile medical services to provide care to those who may have difficulty leaving the house.

Healthcare in Uruguay not only offers a variety of hospital plans but also fosters improvements in national health. By offering virtually free care to its low-income residents, the healthcare system in Uruguay removes all economic barriers to healthy living. Many individuals commend the system of healthcare in Uruguay because they believe it ensures that all citizens have access to the care they need.

Global Impacts

While many countries around the globe continue to struggle with creating a healthcare system that works for their citizens, Uruguay seems to have found a balanced healthcare system that keeps its citizens both happy and healthy.

In South America, Uruguay’s system has influenced its surrounding nations and provided a model for constructing a healthcare system. One can see this in how countries like Argentina. Similar to the Uruguayan system, the Argentinian healthcare system includes private, social security and public care sectors. The public sector offers mostly free care to many citizens. Akin to the private hospitals in the Uruguayan system, Argentinian private hospitals also tend to provide care to wealthier citizens; both public systems also tend to serve less wealthy individuals.

The multi-tiered care system and the element of free public care suggests a pattern between the Argentine and Uruguayan healthcare systems. Since Argentina adopted many facets of Uruguay’s system, it suggests that the effectiveness of Uruguay’s healthcare system has caused changes in the way other countries thought about and organized their healthcare.

In summary, healthcare in Uruguay presents a success story for the following reasons:

  • Uruguayan hospitals provide high-quality care to their patients and always work to the benefit of the patients

  • Public hospitals and private Mutualista plans provide a variety of healthcare options depending on patient needs

  • Uruguay’s public hospitals often provide free care to low-income patients, and in doing so improve the public health of the nation

Overall, Uruguay’s healthcare system acts as a beacon of progress in South America. Its healthcare system functions to improve public health and ensure care even for its low-income citizens, and for that reason fulfills many humanitarian goals. Because of this, the Uruguayan healthcare system continues to influence its neighboring countries by leading them towards developing high-quality healthcare systems that accommodate the economic needs of citizens.

– Nolan McMahon
Photo: Flickr