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Health on Wheels in the Dominican Republic
The van carrying the mobile health team inches down a three-mile, unpaved, pothole-riddled road on its way to Buenos Aires, Dominican Republic. To Dr. Hector Montero's left are the rolling hills of the Sierra Prieta nature reserve, and the deserted offices of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance are to his right.
The office should be bustling with doctors, nurses, and patients. Instead, the darkened windows serve as a stark reminder that if the mobile health team doesn’t make it to Buenos Aires, the community of Haitians who live there will have to go without health care.
Dr. Montero is the coordinator of Profamilia's mobile health project that brings health services to rural and marginalized areas throughout the Dominican Republic. The project overcomes barriers created by geography and cultural isolation to ensure sexual and reproductive health information and care make it to the most underserved communities—which, in the Dominican Republic, means undocumented people from Haiti.
Haitians and their descendants account for up to 12% of the Dominican Republic's population, but their undocumented status contributes to many of them living in abject poverty. Undocumented Haitians suffer from extreme discrimination and are not allowed to receive public health services—even in the case of extreme emergency. As a result, they suffer from disproportionately high levels of illiteracy, infant and maternal mortality, and infectious disease. Dr. Montero's team is the only health care many undocumented Haitians receive.
In 2013, Profamilia's mobile health project provided 9,700 sexual and reproductive health services throughout the country. While the mobile health team mostly provides sexual and reproductive health care, they also lead educational sessions on issues like how to do a breast cancer self-examination and the options for family planning. “We are providing access to quality health services for socially and economically vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Montero. "We're giving people the tools for a better life."