Salud Publica en Panama

My journey has ended, from LA to Panama.

From Panama Canal

I was moving a little quick so I had to shelve a few of the blogs I wanted to write. Now that I am home, I am going to work backwards. The story picks up in Panama.

I was on the last bus of my long, long journey, some 3,000 miles or so. I had just boarded the MarcoPolo cruiser and switched my seat to the very front of the double-decker coach so that I could sit in the very front seat with the giant glass windows like Charlie’s elevator. My spirits were exuberantly buoyant at crossing the Panama border and the triumphant ride from the city of David to the capital and final spot on my adventure. I was chatting amiably with the girl next to me on the bus, and mentioned the public health aspect of my trip. She laughed and said she was studying to be a nurse to deal with public health. Serendipity smiles upon me.

Ana Yancie was studying in the third year of a six year medical program. She told me a little about the public health system in Panama. She mentioned that everyone in Panama has health insurance. The health system is free and there are free hospitals to treat all Panamanians, including those who cannot afford to pay. In her opinion, Panamanians received quality medical care and access to medicine for basic medical needs.

She noted that while not all hospitals and clinics were able to handle all types of medical problems. “There aren’t hospitals that have everything,” she said, “but you can find everything throughout the whole of the medical system.” Certain clinics and hospitals specialized in some aspects of medical care so all care was covered for the most part. This social system of healthcare was meant to cover the most basic coverage of people’s needs. She said that if you are sick, you are fortunate enough to always find basic care. Meanwhile, those who are more affluent also often purchased private insurance that offers more comprehensive care and better service.

I asked Ana Yancie what she made of the US healthcare system. She found it almost incomprehensible that people would be denied care simply because they didn’t have insurance or couldn’t afford it. She said that while Panama surely didn’t have the level of coverage that was available in the US, at least everyone had access to the basic necessities. I told her that I had gone nearly two years without medical coverage while I was doing freelance journalist work, she found this shocking. She was proud of the Panamanian medical system and its availability to all citizens of the country regardless of their socioeconomic status. I wish I could say the same of our own. Yet I still have hope that President Obama will remedy this situation.