Swapna Bhatia

Swapna Bhatia is an APHA Campus Liaison. Photo by Swapna Bhatia

Swapna Bhatia, APHA’s Region III campus liaison at Drexel University, traveled to Nicaragua this summer to pilot an innovative health insurance program. Bhatia shared her experiences with Public Health Newswire, noting the country’s health culture in comparison with the U.S. and areas for opportunity.

The Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children, or FIMRC, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of families in the developing world. The foundation includes volunteers from the U.S. who can serve at any of the seven different sites around the world.

One program in particular is Project Limón in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A shocking 76 percent of the Nicaraguan population lives on less than $2 a day.

FIMRC is located about three hours from the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, known for its beautiful beaches and surf tourism. However, the locals in the surrounding communities live in impoverished areas and only have access to medical care from one health post. FIMRC works with this health post to create a more positive and welcoming atmosphere to the Nicaraguan community.

Although its health services are free, the health post lacks medical staff; it only has one main doctor, a pediatrician who comes twice a week for three hours, two nurses and one schoolteacher. It is apparent that problems persist in the clinic, especially since there is poor infrastructure, a shortage in medical and non-medical supplies and a lack of demand for medical services.

This past summer, volunteers participated in a program to work on health educational sessions, or “charlas,” to educate the communities on topics such as parasites, personal hygiene, malnutrition and urinary tract infections. Because most families live in poor economic conditions, there is a much greater risk for certain chronic diseases.

The charlas are a first step to improving the lives of people in Nicaraguan communities, as they will inform families about their potential health risks and how to prevent them. This will lead to an application of knowledge and an overall proactive attitude towards improving the health of the nation.