This past July, I spent four weeks studying photojournalism and social change in Argentina. The beginning of my trip was spent marvelling Buenos Aires and being chauffeured around acting as if I was the typical tourist. But soon I ventured into the main part of my program and travelled to Rafaela where I stayed with a local family and participated in workshops that covered social issues in the country. I learned about the many issues that revolve around the movements and protests that occur on a daily basis such as the feminist movement, worker’s rights, and others. In Argentina domestic violence is a serious problem, as well as rape, prevalence of sexual harassment, and the recurring gender pay gap. Also, the labor market has been very inflexible over the last couple of decades which has been a factor in the high unemployment problem. Workers are often forced to work for far below minimum wage.
The issue that struck me the most was the economic crash that hit Argentina in 2001. There were three main factors that led to the crash: the fixed exchange ratio of one to one between the Argentine peso and the US dollar created by the Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo, the large amounts of borrowing by the former president, and an increase in the country’s debt due to reduced tax revenues. The one to one ratio proved to no longer be applicable due to the economic crashes of neighboring countries and consumers taking their dollars to them instead of Argentina. The value of the peso was forced to decrease which angered the citizens and caused riots within the country. As of today, the ratio is now fifteen to one.
The following photo series focuses on a local hospital in Rafaela, Argentina and their public healthcare system, which features free service for everyone specifically for low income families.
free & flawed
Behind a counter in Rafaela’s local hospital lies a cabinet containing the variety of medicines . These medicines are labeled, showing organization, yet the small tubes and bottles are thrown together in the plastic drawers. The inside of these drawers have smudges and specks, which show the signs of time. Due to lack of resources, nurses reuse the tubes and bottles at least twice and use hot water to sanitize them. Although the local hospital is public and offers free service to all, the lack of funds affect the service that is provided.
After the economic crash, the majority of families did not have a health plan because the plans were too expensive. In Argentina, there are three healthcare systems: private, employer benefits (which are deducted from salary) and public. The majority of people receive their health plans through either private or employer benefits.
The recent economic crisis in 2001 caused decreases in finances of public health care. This factor could contribute to the many structural problems in the public hospitals such as the deteriorating walls.
Shown above is a cabinet with medicine and medical supplies stored. Adjacent is a cabinet of opposite style containing paperwork and books relating to medicine. In front of the cabinet lies many other objects implying no use of the paperwork or books inside.
A number of people including families and couples wait to be seen by a doctor. Some have been waiting for over an hour and others for only a couple of minutes. Children play amongst themselves and parents sit anxiously hoping to hear their name called soon. In 2002, the Permanent Household Survey in Argentina showed that 57% of poorer households ceased taking their children for medical visits as often as needed. At one point, the children’s hospital was closed for a month due to lack of employees, resulting in an overflow of patients at public hospitals.
Rafaela’s local hospital is heavily decorated with religious art. Religion is a prominent factor of life in the small town.
In the labor room, a religious picture with accompanying script is taped above the bed where women who have just given birth lay. Other religious sculptures decorate the room as well.
The public healthcare system provides 16 vaccinations for free. They also supply a calendar, to help remind parents to bring their children in for vaccinations during a certain time period. However, in 2001, the Argentina Ministry of Health estimated that 30% of infants did not have access to vaccinations. Their parents did not bring them in.
Amongst the many buildings behind the hospital, lies the laundry room. Only two women can be seen intensely working on cleaning all of the hospital’s blankets, sheets, towels, and other garments.
A heater tilts from a wall in the waiting room of the local hospital. Even though the room gains warmth from the appliance, it is missing parts and has the burning flame exposed.