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Gabriela Cavero From MEDLIFE

Gabriela Cavero works at MEDLIFE, an organization that improves access to medicine, education, and community development projects in low-income communities in Latin America and Africa. To achieve their goal, they inspire volunteers to create Chapters, support the Moving Mountains giving program, and volunteer in Service Learning Trips Read our interview with her below!

Tell me a little bit about yourself. What does your job entail?

My name is Gabriela Cavero and I work for MEDLIFE as a trip and education program coordinator. I work with the operations team, but I'm specifically in charge of the trip leaders team. I do a lot of educational work, for example, helping students learn about MEDLIFE, designing trips, and maintaining the content on our website.

What is the healthcare system in Peru?

In Peru, we have different systems for different types of health insurance. The public healthcare system is free for everyone and is financed through taxes. It is not good quality healthcare, because it is underfunded and lacks resources (human, technological, and infrastructure). Then, there is the social security healthcare system that you pay for through a deduction from your salary. You can only access this healthcare if you are formally employed. In the social security healthcare system, there are hospitals for the police and the armed forces. These hospitals are funded by the budget for the police and armed forces. Peru also has private healthcare where you buy an insurance plan. If you are wealthier, you can pay for a nice clinic and get care very quickly.

My impression of the public system is that it is trying, but it is not quite making the mark. I can see the difference between a private clinic and a public hospital. In a private clinic, you make your appointment online for after work, but in the public system, you have to miss a whole day of work to queue for an appointment. Losing a day of work is harmful to individuals because they miss that day’s money and because of this, many won’t seek out an appointment unless they are already in pain or are worried that something is wrong. This is detrimental to preventative health and is evident in many patients’ health outcomes.

How accessible is healthcare to communities in rural areas?

It is very hard. There is not going to be a private clinic in a rural area – there is usually a small, underfunded medical center that focuses on primary and maternal healthcare, as well as preventative health. These centers are usually run by a doctor who has just graduated from university. In Peru, if a doctor wants to work in the public system, they will be sent to run a rural clinic for a year. Some people in rural communities are resistant to Western healthcare, and would rather keep to their traditions instead of giving birth at the clinic. For those who do want to seek out healthcare, they have to pay to travel or live in the big city. Most people in rural areas work in farming, so if they are temporarily/permanently living in Lima to get treatment, they lose all sources of income. Because of this, many people living in rural areas won’t seek out advanced care at all. The government makes an effort to bring vaccination campaigns and preventative health to remote places. When COVID hit, the government had nurses travel around the country to administer vaccinations.

Is there accessible care for cancer in Lima? What about brain cancer?

There is more accessibility in urban areas than in rural areas. If you are wealthy, you could possibly afford surgery and treatment. Those in the public system are able to get surgeries and chemo, but it takes time. However, in rural areas, cancer treatment is not accessible at all. Since last year, there has been an effort to put more resources into cancer, such as technological resources, professionals, infrastructure, and prevention campaigns.

How do you think the healthcare system can change to better diagnose and treat brain cancer?

The best thing that could be done is prevention and education. People in rural areas don’t know about brain cancer or prostate cancer, so they wouldn’t think to get any preventive screening for it. I think that education about cancer should start from a young age, in school, so that kids understand these topics. It will take time, though. It may take generations until everyone can understand the importance of getting a pap smear or colonoscopy.

How does MEDLIFE work to make healthcare more accessible to patients with cancer, and brain cancer more specifically? What do you hope MEDLIFE can improve on?

MEDLIFE has a strong emphasis on prevention. We have educational workshops that shed light on the significance of preventive practices, such as pap smears, routine self-examinations, and regular screenings. By increasing these workshops, we hope to provide more education and health literacy to underserved communities, specifically to teach people to recognize the signs of different types of cancer so they don’t wait as long to take action. We acknowledge the cultural barriers that delay proper diagnosis and treatment, often stemming from reliance on traditional remedies. Sometimes, a patient only realizes they have a type of cancer when it's in an advanced stage, due to not knowing they had symptoms of a specific type of cancer, or because they lacked the money to get to a city that has hospitals, or because they avoid the healthcare system due to discrimination and mistreatment. A robust workshop series would impart knowledge and empower individuals to identify early signs of cancer, catalyzing prompt action. These workshops serve as a gateway to our next endeavor: the mobile clinic initiative.

The mobile clinics deliver primary healthcare to underserved communities across Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Tanzania. Through these clinics, we provide free consultations encompassing general medicine, dentistry, and OB/GYN services. Our overarching goal is to identify patients in need of further care, and enroll them in our follow-up patient program. We address root causes rather than symptoms, acknowledging the pivotal role of consistent follow-through in achieving successful medical outcomes. For example, we have a dedicated team of nurses who return to rural areas to communicate pap smear results. These results are shared directly with patients, and we tell them whether they require additional tests or treatment. Upon enrolling in the follow-up patient program, a holistic journey unfolds, encompassing guidance through the public healthcare system, financial assistance for oncological treatments or surgeries when public resources fall short, and provision of emotional, nutritional, or psychological support as needed. While our records currently lack cases of brain cancer patients, we have encountered instances of cervix and mouth cancer cases, and two patients are presently under our care.

Furthermore, bolstering our effectiveness hinges on cultivating deeper relationships with the public healthcare system, particularly with specialized oncology departments. And our mission would be further amplified by increased funding from the generous supporters of the MEDLIFE movement. As our movement grows, so does the positive impact we can collectively achieve.

Thank you very much for your time!


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