According to sources including the Ministry of Health, over 1000 new cases of childhood cancer are diagnosed every year in Colombia, and every year, over 500 children die, victims not only of the diseases which afflict them but of the unconscionable treatment they receive at the hands of the government which is supposed to be protecting them.
The two primary reasons for this tragic loss of life are:
- Delayed diagnosis
- Abandoned treatment (due to high costs)
Parents of children in impoverished communities outside of the city don’t have access to the doctors and equipment necessary to battle diseases like cancer, so when a child is diagnosed, the local doctor will refer the case to an oncology clinic in Barranquilla. Parents will need to bring their kids to the city, find a place to stay and sometimes, spend several weeks while their child receives the treatment. EPSs are required by law to pay all the expenses necessary to ensure the child gets the care they need, including the cost of transport and lodging. That’s the law. The Constitution guarantees them this legal protection. Unfortunately, that’s not reality.
Here in Colombia, most people* receive abominable healthcare. Moreover, not only is it common for low-strata EPSs to deny coverage, but it has become acceptable.
*(Higher class citizens can afford to pay for a special, pre-paid healthcare which costs approx 1/2 minimum salary per month.)
Digest that for a moment. Parents commonly have to sue their EPS to pay for services which the EPS is legally required to provide. These are privately owned, government-funded institutions. Where is the accountability? Where are the quality checks? Who is responsible? No-one knows. Everyone knows the problem exists but no-one seems to care. To me, it’s a despicable way to treat your citizens. It’s unethical.
Unfortunately, for many parents, especially those in remote villages and towns, legal action is out of the question; they just don’t have the money to spare to cover the cost of a lawyer. Nor can they afford to bring their child for treatment. Bus tickets alone would decimate the average poor family’s weekly income. Add to that the cost of lodging and food in the city and it becomes a fantasy, totally unmanageable.
For these parents, there’s no hope. They comfort their kids as best they can and stay with them until the end. What kind of society do we live in that lets children suffer and ultimately die – pushing parents to sue for what should be ethically given..??
Unlike in developed countries, where between 80 and 90% of children diagnosed with cancer live to tell the tale, here in Colombia, that number is a sad 50%. One of every two kids diagnosed in Colombia will die.
Luckily, there’s a ray of hope.
Almost 12 years ago, Andrea, the daughter of a schoolteacher, was diagnosed with myeloid leukemia. Wanting the best care for her daughter, (and having the resources to get it) the pair traveled to New York City for treatment at a well-known hospital. While in the city, they were fortunate to be able to stay at a Ronald McDonald House (RMH).
Although Andrea unfortunately succumbed to her illness, her mother, Maria Clara, based on her positive experience with RMH, and with the goal of making a difference for humanity, decided to build a similar facility here in Barranquilla. In 2012, together with a friend whose daughter, Vanessa was also suffering from cancer, they launched the Andrea and Vanessa Foundation Home for Kids with Cancer.
As I walked in the door, I was astounded by the welcoming atmosphere. I had expected something more clinical, more institutional. Standing there in the vestibule, marveling at the bright open interior, I was taken back to my childhood and for a flitting instant, I was standing in the hallway of my parent’s home. More than anything, I felt comfort, warmth and love.
For most of the families who walk through this door, life is in turmoil, and a welcoming, friendly environment can seem like an oasis in a stark desert.
After a brief tour of the house, Maria Clara introduced me some of the residents, parents whose children were at the hospital getting treatment. Farmers and laborers, their faces evidenced the difficult lives they had led – that they were now being forced to endure this new tragedy tightened a cord around my heart.
Maria Clara is the President of the Board of Directors. Her and her small staff and a veritable army of volunteers have been managing the house for close to four years and it is the only one in Barranquilla. They receive referrals from doctors across the region and have space for 13 children plus one parental guardian for each. So far, they have helped over 100 families along the coast – and impressively, no child under their roof has had to abandon treatment; the staff have always found a way to make things work.
Incredibly, they receive no support from the government whatsoever. They rely on private donors and organizations to supply the materials and goods they need to function. Their goal is to either purchase their current house (which they are renting) or build a new, bigger facility where they can care for more children.
In June, 2015, La Revista Huella Social of El Tiempo placed Fundacion Andrea y Vanessa in a list of the top 40 foundations in Colombia to support, calling them a serious and committed organization.
If you or your company are looking for a great organization to help, this one should be on top of your list. They’re performing an essential function and they need our support. In addition to food, clothing, toys, books, furniture and consumables, they need financial donations.
We mention this topic in the July 10th edition of “This Week in Barranquilla.” Take a look below:
“This week in Barranquilla” is Barranquilla Life’s weekly news show, covering all the latest news from Barranquilla. Check us out – every Sunday night. To subscribe to our channel and see all the latest shows, click here.