When the universal healthcare doesn't go for everyone
Manik (36 years old, Bangladesh) has been in Spain for more than 8 years. Like many of his compatriots, he came without papers and for the first three years he had to make a living. Six months after being in Madrid, an event occurred that marked him and that now, he remembers when I ask him why he acts voluntarily as an interpreter.
“One day on the street, in the center of Madrid, somebody attacked me to rob me, it was strong and I even bled. People immediately wanted to help me, they spoke to me, they asked me things and I didn't understand anything ... I didn't know how to speak Spanish then and I will never forget how I felt at this moment. This is what drives me now to help the people of my country, when they are in vulnerable situations or they are sick. Nobody understands them and they cannot explain what is happening to them. And then ... well I knew Mohamed* personally ... it was very hard to see what happened to him.” Manik has since dedicated his time and soul to helping his compatriots. In normal times he works as a cook, and when with the pandemic he found himself without a job, he spent 4 months volunteering as an interpreter. Now back at work, three days a week he is still available to those who need his help. But it's not enough.
And yet Manik is not the only one who dedicates himself to these tasks on a voluntary basis. Faced with inaction on the part of the City Council and the Community of Madrid, a wide network of volunteers was launched so that Mohamed's tragedy does not repeat itself. Several associations such as Valiente Bangla, Red Interlavapies and others, joined forces to eliminate the linguistic barrier in access to healthcare. The Party Màs Madrid (joined later on by other parties) and citizen initiatives called for the urgent and permanent hiring of interpreters. The Community of Madrid promised to seek solutions but several months later the situation has not changed much and, although overwhelmed by the situation, Manik continues to respond to calls for help.
“More and more people call me, and I can't not to help them even if I'm at work. It is a matter of health and it can be a matter of life. When the case of Mohamed came out in the media, there was a lot of noise and so they hired a company to have interpreters (Dualia - h.j). But the company is in Andalusia, everything is done by phone and the problem is that you can hardly ever contact them. Also this company does not have a Bangla interpreter, no matter how often they repeat they have it, it is not true, or at least I do not see it. Social workers, doctors, nurses who cannot reach this company finally call me for help. I can continue doing it, but of course, sometimes I spend half an hour on the phone just taking care of one person's case. I work well, but I am afraid that my boss will one day get tired of all this and throw me out.
Nor can I offer my job as an interpreter for this company, because there they ask you to become a freelancer. Now I have a stable job as a cook, if there is any problem, I have the right to unemployment benefit and everything. I'm not going to become a freelancer now because maybe in two or three months they fire me and what am I going to do if it happens? I am an immigrant, I don't have much savings to take these kind of risks.”
The language barrier continues to be a problem for many people who are unable to access healthcare in a time as important as the pandemic. But it is not the only thing that Manik denounces. According to him, there is quite a lot of racism that he notices when he tries to fix things. As he comments, one of the most frequent problems is that people, whose administrative situation is irregular, need a “DAR code” to be treated in the health centers in Madrid. It is a computer code that aims to facilitate access to health care and can be issued by administrators in Primary Care Centers. According to Manik, many times the administrators refused to issue this code or took a long time to do so, even knowing that the person has symptoms of infected by Covid.
“I have also noticed that when I called the ambulance, it took 4 to 5 hours to arrive. At one point I started asking my Spanish friends if they could call and in those cases the ambulance would arrive in 10-15 minutes. Of course, when they heard my voice on the phone and realized that I am a foreigner, they were in much less hurry ... This happened to me a lot of times.
What I see is that people who do not have papers have absolutely no rights: neither to food, nor to housing, nothing; this situation must be fixed because these people are here and how can they live in times of pandemic if they are not helped? " - Manik.
* Mohammed Hussein, a Bangladeshi citizen who died in Madrid at the beginning of the pandemic, after having tried to contact the health services for 6 days, without being able to be understood or treated in time.