Health center on wheels brings medical services to remote parts of Uruguay

By Santiago Carbone

Rivera, Uruguay, Sep 22 (EFE).- A bus-turned-health center on wheels gets moving in the early-morning hours and journeys to different small towns of rural Uruguay, bringing “humanitarian medicine” to more than 5,000 people.

Chatting, laughing and telling stories and jokes, the crew of Expreso Esperanza (Hope Express) departs from this northern town located across the border from the Brazilian city of Santana do Livramento en route to one of the more than a score of remote destinations they serve.

Driving along roads where hills, fields and animals are visible amid the verdant landscape, the health professionals travel up to three hours to provide medical services to what one of their patients describes as their extended “family.”

Between 2011 and 2021, Cuban family medicine physician Ivan Sotomayor was one of the professionals who logged thousands of kilometers aboard Expreso Esperanza.

In an interview with Efe, he said those medical visits reach a part of Uruguay that is “really unknown to many” and where access to basic services is severely lacking.

“We’re talking about people who, until recently, had no electricity, who had never been to a city, who had never been to the movies,” Sotomayor said.

But he said major strides have been made through this plan that is part of a Japanese government-financed initiative to support grassroots human-security projects in Uruguay.

He said it also is rewarding when former patients who have moved from one place to another over the years approach him to offer a warm greeting.

Reflecting on his experience aboard Expreso Esperanza, Sotomayor said current and aspiring physicians should know that there are many wonderful things to discover in Uruguay and that a hospital is not the only potential workplace for a doctor or nurse.

“What’s important is to value the human being and always try to provide better care,” the physician said.

Pablo Prestes, the current doctor aboard the bus, pointed to the unique experience of working in this fashion.

In remarks to Efe, he said the goal is to improve the quality of life of each individual residing in these remote areas and stressed the friendship that he and his colleagues develop with their patients.

“What I highlight in the Expreso Esperanza team is our values with humanitarian principles. That in some sense we stop seeing the patient with a certain illness and analyze their entire circumstances. We need to realize that health is not only absence of illness, but rather bio-psychosocial wellbeing,” he said.

Prestes said he never imagined after earning his medical degree that he would be working on a bus but that this opportunity has been very “gratifying.”

One of the more than 5,000 beneficiaries of the Japanese-financed program, Susana de Armas, echoed the doctors’ remarks.

An inhabitant of the small northern locality of Paso Ataques, home to just 100 people, she told Efe that the bus “is very important to all local residents.

She also stressed the personalized attention the medical professionals offer, saying they go wherever they are needed no matter the circumstances.

“Whatever they can do, they do it with a lot of love. I hope Expreso Esperanza is always there,” De Armas said. “I hope they’re always there for us because the care is really superb. They’re already part of our family.” EFE


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