My name is Maria Jose Cisneros Caceres and I am a 26-year-old doctor from Ecuador. I work as a junior researcher at the Universidad Internacional del Ecuador (UIDE) and as a medical doctor at a public hospital in Quito which has become one of the main centers for patients with COVID-19 in my country.
Throughout my career I've had the chance to do research and internships at the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), at the department of emergency preparedness and disaster relief, and at public hospitals from Spain and Portugal. I have come to the conclusion that nothing could have prepared us for our current reality.
Young and fearful
As a young medical doctor at the beginning my professional career, the current situation represents a big challenge.
Young health professionals are often on the front line. We are exposed even when we are protected with security equipment.
Yes, we are young but it is not because of that that our lives or health are negotiable. As a medical doctor I feel committed to the wellbeing of the population, every day I choose to go to the hospital. And I choose it with pride, but also with fear.
How can I let society know that I thank them for their applause and gratitude but that is not what we need?
How can I let society know that we always have the chance to fight together against social inequity and that we don’t need a global pandemic to remind us of how important our humanity is.
There are people dying every day due to the lack of access to basic services and no one talks about them. Why do we feel that one death is more important than the other?
How can I let society know that while most of us feel bored at our homes, there are persons that don’t have a roof over their heads, that maybe don’t have as much food as they need, that probably don’t have access to clean water, that definitely don’t have access to healthcare?
I believe this is an opportunity to recover our essence as humans, to be part of a universal society, to work not only for our benefit but for everyone's. And start thinking that my neighbor’s wellness is my own.
Our greatest weaknesses can become our greatest opportunities.
Migration: two sides of the same coin
Being a migrant isn’t an easy task. You leave your country, your family and what you known behind.
Being a migrant has always implied being at risk at all levels.
The expansion of the coronavirus around the world started with imported cases, with travelers of high socioeconomic status who could afford to travel around the world and go to a hospital and access health care attention whenever they felt something was wrong. Those who traveled to China and mainly European countries and came back to their home countries. This pandemic started growing out of proportion based on the globalized world we live in.
For all we know the same route of expansion could be presented in the other type of migrants, those who have little money, little access to healthcare and live in unsanitary conditions, and especially those who don’t have access to medical attention when they are not feeling well.
The funny thing is that viruses and illnesses know very little about how much money you make or how important you believe you are.
Exposed and vulnerable
Protecting migrants in a health crisis is a necessity, not only because of basic human rights, but because it helps to slow down the expansion itself. If we don’t take them into account when developing healthcare strategies, we are losing the battle before we even fight.
Often the migrants are at the bottom of the economic pyramid, and one thing we must understand is that poverty exacerbates diseases.
What happens when you don’t have access to clean water and soap?
I have had the chance to work with vulnerable populations, migrants and refugees, most of them from a low socioeconomic background. I have seen that there are many places where access to basic services is a luxury not everyone can afford.
How are we working to close the gap between barely living and living with dignity?
Have we ever stopped to think in which situation our migrants or refugees live?
The 'stay home' strategy is brilliant and probably one of our only few chances to flatten the curve of contagion of the virus, but what if you don’t have a house in which to stay in?
A health crisis that exacerbates our faults
Being a migrant is a risk that is exacerbated with social inequities, and even more so in a global pandemic.
Our society is a complicated one, we are always ready to discriminate and blame others before we know their story. We have learned, from generation to generation, the social stigmas about cultures, ethnicities and nations that many choose to perpetuate.
An interesting social phenomenon happened at the begining of this crisis, when Latin-American and African countries and societies started to discriminate against migrants coming from European countries. That was a first.
I wonder how European tourists felt during those days. Was it ok to be judged without them knowing you?
I wonder how the Europeans felt when people tried to avoid them, talk to them as little as possible. Now imagine being judged when you are in a position of poverty.
Our greatest opportunity
So, here is the groundbreaking strategy: equity.
We are all equal, we are all the same and if we don’t take care of the most vulnerable parts of our social structure, the pandemic will never stop.
Chances are we all will be migrants at some point in our lives. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that no matter where you are or where you come from you will have universal access to healthcare?
Let’s take this moment to reset. Let’s see each other as one, let's use empathy as a daily mindset.
This is the chance for our whole system to shift, to appreciate more what makes us humans, to understand that the role of everyone is worth all the claps and applause.