Love Beyond Borders: A Story from Panama

Author: Cassandra Coats, BSN

Editor’s Note: Ms. Coats is a graduate of Linfield University where she did a field placement in Panama during the pandemic. This report on what she found in Panama is another in our series on the pandemic impact on the Majority World.

In October of 2021, an international travel opportunity allowed for the realization to raise awareness of the impacts the pandemic is having on the Majority World. As a Registered Nurse, working with a group known as Floating Doctors, we traveled the waters to reach the natives on the islands at high risk for famine. The Floating Doctors’ ongoing mission is to reduce the present and future burden of disease in the developing world and to promote improvements in health care delivery worldwide (Volunteer Handbook, 2018). As you read, envision yourself unable to wash your hands in a sink with running water or unable to drink from a faucet. The magnitude is real. Surrounded by water, but not filtered water that you can hydrate with. The spread of the COVID-19 virus has exacerbated the spread of disease.

Now, what if you could make one slight difference in the hands and health of another human in these beautiful islands?

I hope to shed light on the need to increase awareness in vaccination distribution, followed by proper water filtration for sanitation. All people deserve adequate health care and equal access to vaccinations. Equality is sustainable if we share the story, propose the passion, and raise awareness for the Majority World.

Based out of Bocas del Toro, Panama, which is largely known as Central America, the mode of transportation is by boat, otherwise known as “Panga’s.” The volunteer hub is on an island named, Isla San Cristobal. The healthcare team provided services to over more than 10,000 square kilometers of jungle-covered mountains, mangrove mazes, and open sea conditions in Panama. (See the photo below for surroundings islands).

The Bocas del Toro Archipelago consists of nine islands, and many jungle-like hilltops in where the vulnerability is abundant with people affected by the pandemic. “On December 8, 2021, the Panamanian Ministry of Health confirmed 479,901 total cases of COVID-19 in Panama” (U.S. Embassy in Panama, 2021).

******According to data pulled together from the Center for Disease Control (CDC),

The current struggles with the pandemic include a lack of vaccines and lack of transportation methods for the medical supplies and medical personal to reach the remote locations. Additionally, the lack of tools, supplies, and machinery to build quality water filtration systems adds to the complexities that the pandemic has caused.

The environment is a hot and humid terrain with hovering insects The rainfall is continuous, and the hygiene is poor. Rainwater is collected after the nightly thunderstorms, yet the filtration systems are less than adequate. There is little to no electricity, no flushing toilets, and minimal permanent healthcare resources. The pressures they face are inadequate water filtration, saturated stagnant terrain, and subpar air ventilation systems. The lack of water and heat result in dehydration, which is most prevalent. The burden of COVID has exacerbated the poor health conditions. Surrounded by water does not equal safe drinking water. The vulnerability of the people lies in lack of health education, climate change, and basic foods for nutritional adequacy. Many people have been affected by COVID-19 in and around the remote islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama.

According to Oxford Business Group (2021), Panama’s health care system is characterized by a large public sector, composed of the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud, MINSA) and the Social Security Fund (Caja de Seguro Social, CSS). With a collaborative approach from Love Beyond Borders, Floating Doctors, and MINSA, the compounding health ailments from COVID can be mitigated. The complexity of gaining access to vaccinations may be decreased. A network of resources enables medical technology to expand. The complexity and long nature of impacts can be lessened for the indigenous people of the native lands in and around Panama City, Panama. Untreated and reoccurring infections occur often on the islands. The long-standing complications seem cyclic. However, the following strategies can be considered to make a change for the Majority World.

The strategies to raise awareness of the depth of impact on vulnerable people during this ongoing pandemic, that will have rippling effects comprise: Donations, Awareness, Advocacy, and Engagement.

  • Donations would allow water/air filtration systems and flushing toilets to be installed and maintained. This further promotes hand washing –the number one way to stop the spread of germs!

  • Awareness through writing and sharing stories enables actions. Sharing experiences allows health care workers to become aware of the extended opportunities to help others. The opportunity to partake in providing proper air ventilation systems and cultivating sanitation stations.

  • Advocating for the natives gives voice to the culture. This enables the opportunity for health education and promotion. Vaccinations will stop the spread of transmissible diseases, like COVID. Water will hydrate and wash away bacteria and other germs.

  • Engaging in humanity is monumental in the career of a health care provider and human kindness.

The Interfaith Movement to End the Pandemic is one way to come together and increase access to vaccinations and healthcare for the Majority World. The impact each human has on our world is tremendous. Raising financial support and awareness aids to provide in the harmony of cultural diversity with human kindness, resulting in cultural competency and assistance to the Majority World.

References

Oxford Business Group. (2021). Panama Health. https://oxfordbusinessgroup.com/overview/towards-universal-coverage-improving-access-further-integration-health-care-system

U.S. Embassy in Panama. 2021. Retrieved from https://pa.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/

*Additional resource that demonstrates the efforts from MINSA: Panama Times.

https://panatimes.com/tag?_=minsa

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