For far too many citizens living in Guatemala, healthcare is not feasible and the results of this are catastrophic. Guatemala has the fourth-highest rate of malnutrition, and although the Guatemalan constitution guarantees healthcare, many fail to access the care that they need. Here are five facts about healthcare in Guatemala.
5 Facts About Healthcare in Guatemala
- The Guatemalan government spends very little money on healthcare. In fact, Guatemala only spends about $97 per person on healthcare. Comparatively, the United States spends $7,825 per person, and healthcare is not even an explicit “right” under the U.S. constitution. This leads to an underfunded, understaffed and underpaid system that oftentimes does not have the resources necessary to deal with complex diseases. According to a 2017 Health Policy Plus report, the Guatemalan government simply does not have the economic ability to fully fund its healthcare system. The report states that “Limited public resources have inhibited the Government of Guatemala’s ability to meet the health needs of the growing population and comply with its constitutional obligation to provide health services as a public good.”
- If a person wants specialists, they have to travel. About 80% of doctors in Guatemala work in Guatemala City. As a result, rural and poorer areas of Guatemala lack the resources they need to get the proper care. Subsequently, in order to receive certain tests, people living in rural areas often have to travel long distances, sometimes taking a day or two off of work. In many cases, people live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to miss out on a day of pay.
- There is a language barrier. Medicine is complex, and trying to explain medical treatment to someone who does not speak the same language is oftentimes impossible. Guatemala possesses a whopping 25 languages. In Guatemala City, where the specialty doctors are located, the primary language is Spanish. As a result, a person who does not speak Spanish and needs special treatment may have serious challenges.
- Rural areas are less advanced. As previously mentioned, the overwhelming majority of doctors work in Guatemala City. For those living in rural areas, access to care is often non-existent. This can lead to a slew of medical ailments, but it also means that these people practice a less advanced version of medicine. For example, in 2009 only 46% of rural Guatemalans utilized modern contraceptives.
- Maternal mortality is higher among minorities. Despite making up 43% of the population, more indigenous people suffer from maternal mortality than any other group. Of the 452 maternal deaths in 2013, 68% were indigenous women. In addition, the indigenous maternal mortality ratio was 159 per 100,000 and only 70 per 100,000 for non-indigenous women. One possible explanation is the language barrier. Most doctors work in Guatemala City with a primary language of Spanish. In cases where an indigenous person speaks one of the other 24 languages, it can be difficult for doctors and patients to communicate.
Although the Guatemalan government considers healthcare in Guatemala a right, for a large fraction of the population it is not. People simply do not have the means to travel or take a day off of work just go see a specialist. Thankfully NGOs are stepping up. One NGO, The GOD’S CHILD Project, is currently fundraising to fight malnourishment in Guatemala. This NGO claims to have helped 4,000 orphaned and impoverished children, as well as 7,000 widowed, abandoned and single mothers and their dependents across Guatemala.
Another NGO named Wings fights exclusively for issues relating to Guatemalan healthcare. Wings’ subsidizes things like contraception and education in rural areas with patients who have serious medical conditions. In 2018 alone, this group helped 3,658 adolescents and young adults with contraceptive access and education. With the help of these NGOs, improved healthcare for Guatemala is on the horizon.
– Tyler Piekarski