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Ecuador contains three distinct climatic regions: Tropical, Highland or Sierra and Amazon rain forest. The health conditions of this country vary according to these regions. In the sierras, in cities such as Quito or Cuenca where most Ecuadorians live, health conditions most commonly associated with the tropics do not exist. For example, the types of mosquitoes which carry malaria and dengue fever cannot live at altitudes above 2300 meters (according to the US Centers for Disease Control) as is the case in virtually all of the sierras. While there does not seem to be general agreement in the medical community about the prevalence of altitude-related conditions, some visitors to the highlands may experience symptoms. The lower atmospheric pressure of the sierras affects some individuals profoundly with difficulty in breathing, nausea and dizziness but these conditions are typically not of long duration and require a period of reduced activity and conservative eating and drinking for acclimatization. Ecuadorians living most of their lives in the sierras commonly require a brief period of re-adjustment after living at sea level for prolonged periods of time. In the low-lying coastal regions and in the Amazonian region the predictable diseases of those climates exist. Malaria, for example, is according to UN sources no longer epidemic in Ecuador. Nor is Dengue Fever. According to WHO data on confirmed cases of malaria, Ecuador had 8464 cases per 100,000 population in 2007 and 544 cases in 2012 (the latest year in WHO figures). Changes in living conditions and health care appear to have had a significant effect on this condition. The potential for these diseases does exist but mostly in isolated, economically-depressed areas of the Amazon and seacoast. Many do not realize that dengue-infected mosquitoes exist in the states of the southeastern US but do not infect inhabitants on a widespread basis. Life expectancy is approximately that of the US.
As in many countries, Ecuador has a comprehensive national health system. Free medical care (with an extensive system of hospitals and regional health clinics) is available to all residents regardless of income and without buying any type of medical insurance. An extensive, proactive program of public health includes actions such as teams of nurses going door-to-door offering influenza vaccine to residents. Remote rural areas are also served by this system with physicians, dentists and nurses performing an obligatory one-year "rural" in which they serve isolated or underserved populations. In Ecuador, this one year of service is mandatory for professional licensing. For residents who are members of the national Social Security Institute, an additional, modern system of hospitals and clinics is provided through employee and employer payroll deductions or voluntary payments as is the case with many expatriates residing in Ecuador. The monthly contribution for voluntary members (family of 2) of this system is just over $80. Employees, on the other hand, contribute .0935 of their salaries for this coverage but this also includes membership in the national pension system. Private health care is also available in the form of mostly smaller, doctor-owned health clinics. Private health insurance can be purchased but, as in many countries, is largely used by those of middle and upper income groups. Ecuador has benefited from the Cuban system of medical education sending over 100 students per year (for over 10 years) to the Escuela de Medicina Latinoamericana at no cost to the government of Ecuador or the students. A requirement of the program is that 50% of these students be women. Before returning to practice in Ecuador, it is common for these doctors to complete specialized residencies in the major cities of Argentina and Chile among other countries. Additionally, Cuban nationals are numerous among the professors in the faculties of medicine in the major cities of Ecuador including Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca and Ambato.
The current structure of the Ecuadorian public health care system dates back to 1967. The Ministry of Public Health (Ministerio de Salud Publica del Ecuador) is responsible for the regulation and creation of public health policies and health care plans. The Minister of Public Health is appointed directly by the President of the republic. David Chiriboga, a specialist and researcher in community medicine, was appointed Minister in April 2010 but resigned in January 2012, and was replaced by Carina Vance.
The philosophy of the Ministry of Public Health is to give social support and services to the most vulnerable populations and its main plan of action lies around community health and preventive medicine.
The Ecuadorian public health care system permits patients to be treated daily as outpatients in public general hospitals, with no previous appointment, by general practitioners and specialists. This is organized around the four basic specialties of pediatric medicine, gynecology, clinical medicine, and surgery. Specialty hospitals are also part of the public health care system to target chronic diseases or a particular group of the population. For instance, there are oncological hospitals (SOLCA) to treat cancer patients, children's hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, gynecologic and maternity hospitals, geriatric hospitals, ophthalmologic hospitals and gastroenterological hospitals, among others.
Although fully equipped general hospitals are found in the major cities or capitals of the provinces, there are basic hospitals in the smaller towns and canton cities for family care consultation and treatment in pediatrics, gynecology, clinical medicine, and surgery.
Community health care centers (Centros de Salud), or day hospitals, are found inside metropolitan areas of cities and in rural areas. These day hospitals give care to patients whose hospitalization is less than 24 hours.
Most of the rural communities in Ecuador have a sizable population of indigenous people; the doctors assigned to those communities, called also "rural doctors", are in charge of small clinics to meet the needs of these patients in the same fashion as the day hospitals in the major cities. The care given in rural hospitals is required to respect the culture of the community.
The MSP provides health services to 30 percent of the Ecuadorian population. The Social Security Institute covers 18 percent of the population. Two percent is covered by the Armed Forces. NGO's (Non Governmental Organizations) cover about five percent. Private services cover 20 percent.
In 2011 there were 1.7 medical practitioners per 1,000 population.
1830s: Surveys in urban areas show a range of 5 to 108 infant deaths per 1000 live births, whereas those in urban areas vary from 90 to 200.
1867: Alejo Lascano Bahamonde founds the Faculty of Medicine in Guayaquil, the first faculty of medicine in the city.
1950s: Intestinal ailments and respiratory diseases (including bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and pneumonia) cause roughly 3/4 of all infant deaths.
1959: The Ecuadorian government conducts a national survey to determine conclusions about the malnutrition rates in Ecuador.
1960s: More limited studies about malnutrition rates are conducted.
late 1960s: 40% of preschool children show some degree of malnutrition. 30% of children under 12 years of age are malnourished and 15% are anemic.
late 1980s: Childhood mortality decreases to .9%
1991: Health officials in Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile banned entry of uncooked food from Peru, particularly fish, which reduced the spread of many diseases in Ecuador.
2010: Dengue hemorrhagic fever epidemic in Ecuador.
Life expectancy at birth: 78 years
Childhood mortality (per 1000 live births): 24
Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f (per 1000 population): 206/123
There are many prevalent diseases in Ecuador, mainly due to environmental conditions, geographical location, and lack of health care. Specific health problems that are common in Ecuador: infant mortality, acute respiratory infection, diarrhetic diseases, dengue fever, malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, health problems due to smoking, malnutrition. In Ecuador, there are approximately 14000 cases of TB per year. The HIV prevalence rate among persons aged 15–49 is 0.3%. Stunting from chronic malnutrition affects 26% of children under 5. There are approximately 686 malaria cases per 100,000 people.
Health has a high correlation with economic status in Ecuador. Private health care is often much more efficient, and can only be afforded by the rich.
Afro-Ecuadorian children and Indigenous children are more likely to grow up in poverty and, as a result, face medical problems. Rates of chronic malnutrition are worse for indigenous children.
Ecuador is divided into 4 regions; The Andes, The Amazon Basin, The Coast and The Galapagos Islands. Harsh climates in each region pose a number of threats to human health. Due to the lack of oxygen in the Andes because of high altitude, altitude sickness may arise. It is mostly tourists coming from low-altitude regions that are affected by altitude sickness.
The amazon's many species do pose threats to human health. Diseases like malaria and yellow fever can be transferred to humans by infected mosquitoes. Deforestation in the Amazon causes an increase in the number of cases of malaria, because deforestation creates more breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Access to clean drinking water is also an issue in Ecuador. Water borne diseases like cholera can be transferred to humans through frequently drinking water that is not cleaned and filtered. Not treating wastewater and not having proper sewer systems pose the same threats. 21.9% of households in Ecuador do not have access to clean drinking water. 5% of wastewater is treated. 48% of households have sewer systems.
There are high amounts of air pollution in Ecuador. This can result in air-born illnesses and respiratory problems.