Meet the young doctors bringing healthcare to rural Romania
Talk about mobile health! Doctors and medical students have put Romania’s healthcare divide in the spotlight
Every month, one of Romania’s many rural villages welcomes up to 40 young doctors and students on a mission: to deliver health services to those in need, while highlighting the huge gap in access to healthcare for rural communities. They call it the Caravana cu Medici– meaning the doctors’ caravan. It was founded in 2014 by a bunch of five enthusiastic graduates keen to continue the volunteer work they had enjoyed while studying medicine. Now, the initiative has already reached 3,000 people in 25 villages.
‘There is a huge gap between rural and urban areas in Romania,’ says Cristina Corcău, one of the student volunteers who has worked with the project for two years. ‘When it comes to accessing medical care, the population is divided – 50:50.’ That means around 10 million people have serious trouble accessing the care they need. Ten million Europeans – in 2017. ‘It’s a huge problem and we need to do something about it.’
How it works
Each mission requires careful planning and, for the busy doctors who volunteer, is a major time commitment. The first step is to identify a village. There is no shortage of people in need – the challenge is choosing how to use the limited resources available to the Caravana cu Medici team. ‘Once we’ve selected a destination, we talk to local authorities, secure their approval and engage with people in the village,’ explains Cristina. ‘On our first visit, we raise awareness of the mobile clinic and collect blood samples from some of the residents.’
These samples are analysed by a private medical firm and provide valuable insights on the health of the local population. As large chunks of rural citizens are out of reach of state healthcare (to which they are constitutionally entitled), the data is a unique source of public health information. A week later, the doctors return with a full team. ‘We examine people, take their medical history and, often with the help of blood results, we can offer a diagnosis,’ she says. ‘For some people, it’s the first time in their lives that they have had proper medical attention. Sadly, we pick up chronic diseases that could have been prevented if local services were available earlier.’
In addition to a team of doctors – which includes a range of specialties – the project is equipped with state-of-the-art technologies. Ultrasound machines, ECG and EKG devices are valuable diagnostic tools for detecting health problems. ‘We perform abdominal and gynaecological ultrasound for people who have never had access to this kind of technology before,’ says Cristina.
The NGO has also developed its own app: a digital patient chart which is easily accessible to doctors and is linked to a database. ‘We don’t work with paper,’ she says. ‘Everything is digitised, allowing us to collect statistical evidence for government health authorities.’
Health inequalities in the spotlight
Of course, the dynamic young team is limited by its size and facilities. Patients with serious diseases are referred to specialists in their nearest hospital and, where possible, support is provided to help them to overcome barriers to access. Some patients need financial assistance to travel to regional hospitals; others, who have no health insurance, avail of pro bono care from hospital doctors.
The initiative has benefited from donations of medical equipment and may seek further national, EU or private funding in future. But its leaders know they cannot solve such a big problem alone. While the project has been a real help to thousands of disadvantaged families in Romania’s forgotten villages, its real value is in raising awareness of health inequalities.
‘We go to one village per month but there are 10 million people who need this kind of support,’ says Cristina. ‘It would take us 50 years to reach the whole country. That’s why we need a government initiative to ensure every person in Romania has equal access to their fundamental right to healthcare.’