A group of doctors seeking to ease the pressure on Argentina’s overtaxed health system are giving up some of their time to provide free care to the homeless and other marginalized people.
Founded four years ago in Buenos Aires by cardiologist Mariano Masciocchi, the organization Me regalas una hora? (Will you give me an hour?) has inspired a wave of solidarity among medical professionals and volunteers.
“Maybe it’s not having a coffee at a bar or not going to salsa class, and in that hour you can give a whole lot of things - more than you imagine - to somebody who doesn’t have anything,” Masciocchi tells EFE.
He says that he got the idea in 2014 after a period of reflection spurred by the death of his father and the end of his marriage led him to the realization that he “wasn’t doing anything for others.”
“Those blows that life dealt me in that moment helped me to try to come out of that bubble,” the physician says.
In the beginning, he treated a couple of patients a week during a Saturday morning free clinic at a church, but Masciocchi’s call for collaborators on social media was met with a great response and the group now sees around 500 people a month at locations around the city.
“There is a big situation on the street in Buenos Aires. People who live on the sidewalks outside homes with cardboard for shelter and suffer many hardships, as much as in summer - with terrible heat that can reach 40 C (104 F) - as in winter, with temperatures that can reach 0 C (32 F),” he says.
Karen Arauz, a Bolivian doctor who is part of the organization’s board of directors, noted that patients present problems that range from the flu to skin problems and from hypertension to diabetes.
Me regalas una hora? comprises some 60 physicians from various disciplines, psychologists, nutritionists, nurses and lay volunteers, while more than two-dozen other specialists accept referrals from the group.
Besides providing primary care, the group offers an opportunity patients a chance for positive, friendly interaction.
“There are people who have lived on the street for 20 years and the people who pass by don’t even see them. They tell us: ‘We feel like part of the furniture of the city of Buenos Aires,’” Arauz says.
Me regalas una hora?, already with outposts in other parts of Argentina, has ambitions to expand to neighboring countries such as Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela.