Chase Francoeur ‘17 — Huánuco, only 10 years ago, was a city of slightly under 75,000, but has since seen an influx that has boosted population by 230%. Combined with sup-par infrastructures, few resources, and poor health care, this would often spell disaster for many areas. What I witnessed in Pillco Marca, a southern district of Huánuco, showed little different than what I expected.
We first became aware of Pillco Marca through the health clinic that we set up in partnership with Universidad Nacional Hermillo Valdizán (UNHEVAL), which was held at a health center (compound), in the district. As we exited the bus for the first time to enter the center, we witnessed a line of nearly 20-30 individuals, covering all age groups, that stretched from the entrance gate down the side of the road.
As we entered through the gate and finally through the glass doors, we saw a rundown center with small leather benches that had rips all the way down them, and many places with the ceiling exposed to the open air. At any given time of the campaign I estimated a minimum of 100 patients and volunteers inside the building with only three restrooms per gender available, none of which contained toilet paper, soap, or paper towels.
Although I was personally involved with the veterinarian portion of the campaign held outside the building (but still within the compound), I overheard descriptions of the poor conditions that this population was enduring. Many times the locals were living with their health problems for 6-12 months, if not multiple years, before ever entering a doctor’s office, and many were unable to continue with treatment after their visit because they could not financially support it.
The same situation was also evident on the veterinarian side. Many of the dogs (perros) and cats (gatos) that we saw were only there because the free clinic was being held, and if it had not been held, many of these animals would continue to endure their condition. I would estimate that 90-95% of the animals we saw had either fleas or ticks, and of those, about half were so infested that if you were to push their hair against the grain, you would not see skin but a black sea of bugs.
Some individuals would bring a couple of their pets, return with two or three more, and then come back after an additional period with even more — it was hard to imagine that they were not just rounding up the local dogs and cats on the corner of the street and bringing them.
Not a single animal we saw throughout our two days of work, which was approaching 100 total dogs and cats, were spayed or neutered, and throughout the duration of our time in Huánuco, I think that every animal I saw was capable of reproduction. This is a staggering fact when considering how many animals roam the streets and alleys searching through piles of trash for food. The resulting feces simply remains in the areas that kids go out to play, ultimately fulfilling many parasites life cycles as the children lack proper sanitary habits.
Our time in Huánuco, and specifically our experiences at the clinic, left me questioning how is it possible to improve these conditions to levels comparable to what I see in the U.S.; barring an enormous improvement of multiple aspects of infrastructure, nutritional food availability, and health education to name a few, it’s difficult to see how this would happen.
Although the U.S. has those without access to health care and some populations exist with conditions similar to those witnessed, the commonality of it in Huánuco is was what truly left a lasting impression.