About to leave for a whole new experience in the south of the country, I’m just realizing how comfortable I actually am in my host family’s house here in Arica. When I first arrived, I could only help but notice all of the differences between here and “allá” as my host parents say, “over there,” referring, of course, to Boston. Sometimes my host dad tries to pronounce “Massachusetts,” and I’ve just learned to nod and smile and say “correcto” because he is really proud of being able to say such a long, difficult, gringo word. But, yes, the differences were my biggest concern; I took pictures of the square-shaped light switches and became very frustrated that first week when I tried to turn on the gas stove top to make tea and it wouldn’t light automatically. The shapes and materials of the houses, squat and stucco, or the constant construction, or trash in the streets, or stray dogs, or sand and dust in all of my shoes, or later meal times, or men whistling at me in the street, I scrutinized all of these, deeming, at least in my head for a few weeks, that Chile was simply different than the US.
I now realize that there are so many more similarities between the two countries than differences. I would argue that the whole of the occidental world is more similar than it is different, that football here and football there is still a male-dominated, franchise-dripping, fanatic-drawing, beer-drinking afternoon television event, for example. Chile has developed rapidly in the past 30 years, and now people here suffer from the same chronic health problems as people “allá:” heart disease, diabetes, cancer. Most importantly, the people are the same. They value family time and are a little more laid back than most North Americans, I’d argue, but people are people wherever you go, and especially when our culture is actually so close and interconnected to their culture, it’s not hard to relate. People are hard working, others are lazy, some people care a lot about their health and physical well-being, others are happy to munch on churros and empanadas and not move from their sillas in front of the TV.
One thing has stood out to me though, the entire two months that I’ve been here, that is very different. Blame the fact that I’m in a public health program, and have been focusing on the public health system here in Chile, but I think we can take a lesson from the Chileans here: Every single citizen of this country has health insurance, and there are 50 million citizens of the US without any. Just for reference, that’s almost almost 3 times as many people as the entire population of Chile, 3 times the entire population of Chile. My point here, if I wasn’t clear enough, is that that is a lot of people. We’re all suffering from the same health issues, but a Chilean with diabetes, no matter what his/her social class, ability to work, age, race, ethnicity, gender, whatever, will get treatment. An American may have to suffer and ultimately die due to the fact that, as a country, we don’t believe in access to health care as a human right. Here, in Chile, it’s written in the constitution that every citizen will get necessary health care, so they try to deliver this. And Chile is no Cuba. The basics of their modern public and private health care system were established under the Pinochet dictatorship, a dictator who was staunchly anti-socialist and supported by the communist-fearing US.
The system is far, far, far from perfect. There are long wait times to get same-day appointments; to see specialists in the hospital, a person can wait months. The thing is, though, is that with recent reforms here, there’s a heavy focus on primary care (there’s enough to say about this for an entirely different post), so people don’t just go to the doctor when their sick. They go often, for multiple check ups, to prevent going to a specialist or urgent care, to promote a healthier, higher-quality lifestyle. This means that waiting doesn’t have to happen as often.
Nothing will be perfect, and politics are politics everywhere in the world (election season here, I cannot escape the campaign posters), but people are also people everywhere in the world and deserve to be treated with dignity and deserve to get help when they need help. I believe that every person in the US should have access to healthcare, and that in this sphere, Chile proves to be the more developed, modern country.
Inspiration for the post: