SEATTLE, Washington — The 20th century brought about a general decline in infant and child mortality, a great success for global healthcare. Infant and child deaths caused by birth defects, however, have remained steady. Additionally, more than three-fourths of the world’s birth defects appear in infants born in middle- and low-income countries. In other words, poor countries have a 20% higher occurrence of birth defects than their wealthier counterparts. Poor countries are also unlikely to provide adequate primary and surgical healthcare services to infants and children; thus many of them die young.
This wealth disparity means that thousands of people around the world are unable to receive the surgeries they need in a safe, affordable and timely manner. Part of the problem includes the general shortage of surgeons, anesthetists and obstetricians, which amounts to an estimated lack of 1.27 million qualified healthcare professionals worldwide.
Healthcare Challenges in Central America
Unfortunately, countries in Central America suffer a large portion of this deficit. For example, El Salvador has around 1.6 physicians per 1,000 individuals, and Guatemala and Honduras both have less than one. The physician density is dangerously low, thus it is difficult for countries in Central America to provide adequate healthcare services to address the birth defects of their infant and child population. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also judged that countries with less than 2.3 healthcare workers per 1,000 individuals are significantly less likely to achieve the healthcare goals that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established.
This is a problematic reality for countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras; the ability of their populations to access healthcare is also widely dependent on socioeconomic status. Wealthy individuals living in urban areas can take advantage of the few local physicians, but despite some Central American countries’ efforts to improve the quality and access of healthcare for rural populations, communities living outside of developed cities continue to lack basic medical services, especially expensive surgeries.
The unfortunate result is that, in the absence of healthcare professionals, individuals from rural or indigenous areas seek services from traditional healers, who are not qualified to address serious surgical needs. Fortunately, NGOs like the Small World Foundation have been able to provide reconstructive surgery in Central American countries where many Central Americans would otherwise not receive treatment.
The Small World Foundation
The Small World Foundation is a humanitarian nonprofit organization that strives to provide reconstructive surgery in Central American countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. In these places, individuals living in remote areas frequently cannot access or afford basic healthcare. The organization sends healthcare professionals on mission trips to operate on deformities including “cleft lip and palate, burn scar contractures and hand deformities.” Mission trips always collaborate with local physicians, but in the case that certain deformities cannot receive treatment within the host country, The Small World Foundation funds the traveling costs necessary to fly children to the United States for the necessary surgeries.
Part of the effort of mission trips is also to bring the latest medical technology, information and education to physicians in developing countries, in order to make them more self-sufficient. For example, volunteers in Honduras are planning to construct a mobile hospital staffed with physicians and nurses to provide quality healthcare in remote locations.
Central American nations have a lack of physicians and struggle to address the healthcare needs of their populations. Luckily, organizations like The Small World Foundation are fundamental in providing the necessary personnel and surgical skills to help children and infants with deformities receive reconstructive surgery in Central American countries.
– Margherita Bassi