Friday, July 25, 2014
Ometepe, Nicaragua and Healthcare
I have come to work with a small but mighty nonprofit organization, Natural Doctors International (NDI). As the Programs Director, I organize and facilitate throughout the year groups of natural medicine practitioners to come and serve in the organization's naturopathic clinic here on the island. The population of Ometepe has an acute lack of access to health care, and, over the last ten years, many have come to see NDI as their primary care clinic. All services are offered free of charge.
As a Holistic Nutritionist, I am thrilled to learn from our resident Naturopath and visiting doctors, and anxious to do more programming for the community centered around nutrition. Amongst the top complaints we see each and every day here in the clinic include gastritis and a myriad of digestive upset, kidney stones and infections, urinary tract infections, and overall pain (bone, joint, and muscle). While there are some very knowledgeable doctors working in the public clinics here on the island, the reality is they see upwards of 45 patients per day and very rarely connecting diet and lifestyle to any of the above mentioned symptoms and conditions.
The typical diet here is gallo pinto, which is simply beans and rice. Poverty is rampant, the typical Islander making perhaps $4/day. Sure, we can advise them to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, but often this is well over their daily food budget. This year has brought the worst drought the country has seen in many years, and the price of frijoles (beans) has quadrupled, leaving many families subsisting largely on rice. Diabetes is shockingly common, as well as high blood pressure. Sadly, the diet and lifestyle solutions that we much more readily have access to in the US to both treat and prevent such conditions are largely not feasible for those living in Nicaragua, the 2nd poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti.
So what do we do? What can we do? There is no easy solution, that is certain. Thus far, the only thing I can say for sure, is that each and every time I sit down here for a meal in my humble yet more than adequate casita, is that I am filled with a deep and profound gratitude for the food on my plate and the access to healthcare that allows me to live happily and free of disease at this moment in my life. I only hope I can help to bring just a tiny bit of that immense privilege and sense of security to the people here in Nicaragua. It feels, after all, like our duty.