By Charles Redding, CEO and Chairman of MedShare
El Salvador, like other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), faces significant challenges due to its aging and rapidly growing population. In a recent ReVista article – Harvard Journal on Latin America, it was pointed out that the population over 60 in El Salvador will represent 17 percent of the total in 2030 and 20 percent of the region’s total population by 2050.
Unfortunately, for many very poor and elderly people, access to quality social services such as education, health and clean water needs to be improved, measures that have a direct impact on human and economic development. of a country. Organizations like MedShare strive to improve access to quality health care for these marginalized communities, often by providing very low-tech donations that have a profound impact on improving the overall quality of life.
One of MedShare’s long-time partners, Food for the Poor, has drawn our attention to a number of neglected elderly communities in El Salvador who have developed a series of health problems due to the environment, improper nutrition and skin care. We have partnered to deliver petroleum jelly to help solve a number of skin issues that led to serious health issues.
Sister Ana Beatriz, from the Saint-Jean-de-la-Croix Health Clinic, shared that poverty remains very high, especially among “peasants”. Although tourism helps stimulate the economy, it has very few direct beneficiaries. Despite some progress, the people of Laguna have not improved their living conditions much over time as most of the land in La Montañona is not suitable for subsistence farming.
The elderly support the very life of the community through subsistence farming. They leave their homes at 4 a.m. to enjoy the coolness of the morning. They go barefoot or at best in rubber flip-flops. They reserve their shoes, if they have any, to go to church or to official town affairs. The result is a rash from skin diseases related to the feet. Sister Beatriz also notes how poor diet and the excessive use of carbohydrates and sugar contribute to diabetes rates above the national average. At 10 a.m., the sun is at its peak and the elderly suffer from loss of fluid in their bodies, which results in dry skin on the legs, feet, elbows and other areas. Dry skin can crack, causing infection. This is especially dangerous for people with diabetes who suffer from neuropathy. They may not realize that they have a wound that has become infected.
“Fortunately, thanks to the donation of skin moisturizers from Food for the Poor and MedShare, we were able to prevent these problems from occurring by practicing good skin care habits,” said Sister Beatriz.
In the department of Cabanas, the soil is acidic and volcanic. With more than 55% of the population impoverished, the department ranks second in the country for poverty. Cabanas is home to the cement production in El Salvador, and workers constantly suffer from dry skin issues. Dry skin develops microscopic cracks which can cause more water loss from the skin. These cracks also allow irritants and bacteria to enter the skin. This little problem has often resulted in a serious problem like skin cancer or psoriasis. During the treatment of elderly patients, the staff of the Monseigneur Rivera Damascus clinic have noticed a higher rate of skin cancer in the past three years. According to staff, the cement makers just didn’t pay attention to the simple cracks at the start that turned into serious life-threatening situations. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in El Salvador and the least likely to be detected. While not an exclusive solution to melanoma, skin moisturizers, like petroleum jelly, have helped prevent cancer cases in rural communities.
Often times, simple donations such as petroleum jelly or shoes can have lifelong health benefits, especially in neglected communities with aging populations. We have witnessed the life changing effect in El Salvador and other countries facing skin diseases. The challenge we keep hearing is that the very poor don’t appreciate the healthcare made possible by a donation of something as simple as skin moisturizers and the temptation is to sell a bottled product on. the market or not to use it at all. However, these simple solutions can often prolong life. The petroleum jelly provided by MedShare was non-resalable samples equivalent to one day’s use. Clinics often offered a 2 week supply to patients who needed skin care treatment.
MedShare is grateful to its partners, like Food for the Poor, who continue to fight to improve the conditions of marginalized communities by providing them with food, water, quality health care and hope.