By Laura M. Ouellette, MD, and Louis W. Weinstein
My husband, Louis Weinstein, and I are physicians in the United States, and have been traveling to Huatulco intermittently for over a decade. We were drawn by the natural beauty, and warmth of the local inhabitants. During one of our visits, a tour guide advised us that he had concerns about the local medical care. Louis and I are gearing down in our practices, and had the time and interest to investigate.
We have had an education, trying to piece together the medical resources in the area. Mexico has universal health care, but it is fragmented. Mexico does some things better than we do in the United States. For example, the immunization rate here is about 98%. In the US it is 93%. As in the US, one’s financial resources may dictate the availability of care. We have met many wonderful, dedicated local practitioners, but it can be difficult for them to obtain specialty care for their patients.
We have had the privilege of volunteering with the DIF, Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, in Huatulco. The staff have taken us to local villages outside of town, such as Puente de Todos Santos, Arroyo Xúchitl, San Antonio Las Pozas, Piedra de Moros, and several more. We consulted with about 6-30 patients at each site, mostly reviewing their current medical concerns and offering advice. We were impressed to find that the patients had generally received good basic care and excellent preventative care. They tend to be resilient and very hard working. We saw many orthopedic problems related to the hard physical work done on farms, and in their households.
Dental care, especially for children, was often lacking. We bring toothpaste and toothbrushes when we go to the villages. We saw medical problems related to inadequate footwear, and cooking over open fires. Material resources would be a great help to many of these patients.
Louis and I have also volunteered for Stove Team International, a US nonprofit that helps local entrepreneurs set up factories to produce compact fuel-efficient stoves that are safer and generate much less smoke. We have not yet been able to bring such a project to fruition, but we are still trying to coordinate the resources.
We are not sure that we have contributed substantially, but remain curious and hopeful. We are grateful for the support and generosity of the staff at DIF, the local practitioners and volunteers, and of course, the patients. As in the United States, we feel that it is a privilege to share our experience and knowledge.