March had a tremendous start. Dr. Lester Estrada continued his daily list of dental patients Monday through Friday. Our nurses were busy visiting villages when not seeing patients in the clinic. Melina our midwife was occupied doing her prenatal visits and supporting the midwives on the mountain. Dr. Strohecker was scheduled for a week of work in the middle of the month and Dr. Toledo was busy managing the clinic.
Then, as all of you are aware, the coronavirus came. As the pandemic spread, Guatemala locked down. Roads were closed to prevent the spread of the virus through the whole country. Flights into the country were stopped. Dr. Strohecker could not get into the country as he does monthly with supplies for the clinic. Dr. Toledo, who runs her own private practice in Guatemala City, could not get to the clinic either (a 4 hour drive). Dr. Estrada’s university program brought him back to Guatemala City just before the roads closed. In a country with few ventilators (the public hospital closest to Camotan in the city of Chiquimula, has none) an outbreak would kill untold numbers of people.
We had to shift gears. Both Liz and Hermann, our nurses, ended up staying in the clinic for weeks. They lived in the bedrooms there and during the day handed out meds and food to whomever came by.
Liz (L) and Hermann (R) work with a nurse from the public health clinic sorting food
Not only does Guatemala suffer greatly from a health system that cannot support critically ill patients, its economy depends on ours here in the US. Many Guatemalans, legally and illegally work in the US. What they earn is most often sent to their families back in Guatemala. As you can imagine, when a recession hits us, it hits them even harder. So many people there live day to day: the little money the make each day selling something or working is necessary to feed themselves and their families. When the money flowing into society slows, many of these people do not have funds to even eat that day. It is terribly sad.
So, we shifted what we did in the clinic a bit. While we still had a lot of medications and were able to keep our chronic patients supplied, the biggest need became food. We teamed up with the local public health clinic in Camotan to try and help as many as possible.
Romero, one of the public health center nurses, delivering food that Camotan Clinic donated to one of many families
Dr. Toledo finally was able to get to Camotan in late April when the roads were opened for a short time. She took a full car load of food and supplies. For those of you that donate, we thank you. This is where your money is going.
Dr. Toledo (L) leads our group of nurses with Romero (R) the public health clinic nurse into Cajon de Rio, a very far out village with severe poverty.
The hike to remote huts above another remote village, Cajoncito
In the clinic, despite doctors from the US not being able to make it in 2 months, we still have a surplus of many medicines, especially compared to the public health center. In this difficult time, we are supporting them. They are always low on supplies but during this pandemic, the employees did not even have masks. We purchased masks for all of them.
Above Dr. Toledo delivers antibiotics from our supplies to help the public health clinic down the street.
Dr. Toledo donating masks Camotan Clinic purchased for the local health center employees (they had none).
So, we continue to work in this hard time. We had several groups planned to visit Camotan Clinic in March and April from US, including our water purification team from First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, Colorado. Now these trips are on hold. We will complete all of these plans in the future. For now, we continue to be open Monday to Friday supporting the community as they struggle to make it through this time.
As we write this on May 9th, not a lot has changed yet. Guatemala remains closed to travel from the US. Our typical Camotan Clinic schedule has 1 group from the US each month working in the clinic alongside the clinic employees. For now, we have to wait.
Chiquimula, the largest town near Camotan (about 45 minutes away) now has numerous cases of coronavirus. Roads are being shut down once again. Testing is sparse so the few cases that are positive likely represent many, many more sick people. More updates on this to come.
So, thank you for reading. Thank you for caring and following along with our work. To those of you that donate, again, thank you. We are honored to put your money to work in this time. And thank you all for your prayers.