Sunday, July 25, 2004

Pay or Die 

Dept. of Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw: a field report from the only industrialized nation that does not provide basic health care for its citizens (despite spending far more per capita than those who do). From the Washington Post (courtesy of Xan at Corrente):
Thousands of people in the coal mining country of southwestern Virginia waited up to eight hours through storms and muggy heat this weekend to get free medical attention from volunteers gathered at a county fairground.

At least 73 people slept in cars overnight, and a handful pitched tents around the fairground in anticipation of the long lines, said Tony Roberts, 49, a Wise County resident who organized 202 Lions Club volunteers. More than 800 volunteers ran the clinic, sponsored in part by the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps.

On Friday alone, Terry Dickinson, 62, of Richmond and nearly 60 other volunteer dentists extracted about 1,300 teeth at the fifth annual free comprehensive health screening at the Wise County Fairgrounds. They also completed about 550 fillings and 125 teeth cleanings that day.

"They look at their teeth fatalistically," Dickinson said of the clients in a telephone interview. Many people who came to the clinic lack health insurance and had never visited a dentist before.

"Their dad, grandfather, uncle all lost their teeth," said Dickinson, executive director of the Virginia Dental Association. "That's what happens to you. That's just life."

About 3,600 people received medical attention, including vision and hearing screenings, Pap smears and electrocardiograms at the annual clinic, which began at 6 a.m. Friday and ends this afternoon . . . .

Although a few children came to the clinic, most patients were adults or senior citizens who cannot afford medical care from a local provider.

Volunteers who interviewed patients said many of them are former miners who took positions as part-time clerks at Wal-Mart and other local businesses after mine jobs disappeared.

Some volunteers who have participated in medical missions in developing nations compared the area's health profile with what they have seen in the world's poorest countries . . . .

Health professionals pointed to preventable diseases and conditions, such as tooth loss and cervical cancer, as evidence of the disparity in services available to rural populations relative to those in more urban settings.

In developed countries with strong screening programs, rates of cervical cancer are low. In the United States, nearly 11,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2004, and about 3,900 women will die of the disease, according to American Cancer Society projections. About 270,000 women were found to have breast cancer in the United States in 2003, and nearly 40,000 died.

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