5 Ways PIH Supports Patients Beyond Medical Care

PIH connects thousands of people with essential resources to access and benefit from health care

Posted on Jan 12, 2023

Head Chef Tugirumugisha Raymond serves food at Butaro District Hospital.
Head Chef Tugirumugisha Raymond serves food to patients and staff at Butaro District Hospital. The kitchen staff cooks for 600 patients and staff per day. Photo by Zack DeClerck / Partners In Health.

From Rwanda to Peru, Partners In Health provides more than medical care: We cook meals for our patients. We give them a place to stay. We pay for their bus fares.

In communities where we work, where many live on $1 per day, health care often ends up on the back burner as people put their money toward essentials like food and housing—a struggle tied to poverty and systemic injustice.

At PIH, we understand it takes more than medical care to make patients well. In all 11 countries where we work, we offer social support—basic resources like food, housing, and transportation that make it possible for patients to access and benefit from health care.

Here are five ways that PIH provides social support:

1. Food

Healthy food is essential to staying well, but difficult for many of our patients to access, as they often spend what little they have on medical costs. At hospitals and clinics where we work, PIH makes sure patients and their families have food to eat.

When patients come to PIH-supported hospitals such as Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda, they are served three free meals a day, cooked with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Our food support extends beyond the hospital and clinic. In Peru, we deliver boxes of food and support community soup kitchens that provide daily hot meals to residents in Carabayllo, where thousands of our patients live.

2. Housing

Without safe and stable housing, it is nearly impossible for patients to stay healthy, whether recovering from an injury or managing a chronic condition. Around the world, PIH helps patients access short- and long-term housing.

During medical procedures such as surgeries or childbirth, we ensure patients and their families have a place to stay, hosting them at our guest houses or maternal homes onsite or providing vouchers for nearby hotels. We also help patients access long-term housing. In Malawi, PIH has built 137 homes and renovated 268 more in rural Neno District, serving more than 2,000 people. In Peru, PIH opened the first-ever safe house for people living with schizophrenia—a home that has since served as a model for 50 more across the country.

3. Transportation

For patients living on $1 per day, a bus ticket to the closest hospital or clinic can be too costly, resulting in missed doctors’ appointments and unfilled prescriptions. And for those with severe injuries or illnesses, travel on crowded public transit isn’t realistic; but private transportation is out of reach financially.

PIH recognizes that transportation is critical to a patient’s care, from diagnosis to recovery. In all countries where we work, we provide stipends for transportation, paying for bus tickets and taxi fares to ensure patients can reach the hospital or clinic. In Mexico and Rwanda, we deliver this and other social support through the Right to Health Care program. In these and other countries, we operate fleets of our own cars, staffed by our experienced drivers, who transport patients to and from appointments.

4. Education

Education equips people with the tools to make informed decisions about their lives, including their health and well-being. But in the communities where PIH works, this basic human right is inaccessible for many students, whose families must choose between school fees and other expenses, or send sons, but not daughters, to school.

PIH is determined to challenge those realities. In Malawi and other countries, we pay for school fees, uniforms, notebooks, and other supplies—expenses that total about $2 per child but are unaffordable for many families. Since 2007, PIH has covered school fees and other supplies for more than 1,100 students in secondary school and more than 2,000 in primary school in Neno District, widening access to education that can change lives.

5. Employment

In communities where PIH works, people often rely on jobs that are low-paying, seasonal, or otherwise unpredictable. In Peru, for example, 68% of workers are part of the informal economy. Paid work is essential to staying well, and a medical issue can take a devastating toll on health and finances, as patients miss work and accrue costs, fueling a cycle of poverty and sickness.

PIH supports patients as they seek job opportunities. In Kazakhstan, we’ve helped patients in our tuberculosis program access employment, along with residency papers. In Peru, PIH has distributed small business loans and helped patients start economic cooperatives. Our patients have joined our ranks too, becoming doctors, nurses, drivers, and more—evidence that care can change lives and improve outcomes.

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