A Legacy of Care in Guatemala

Publication Date: 
August 13, 2018

Recently, a diabetic woman with a seriously infected leg showed up at the Zatti Clinic in San Benito Petén, Guatemala for a second opinion after having been seen at the local hospital. "The hospital doctor told her he would have to amputate," recalls Father Giampiero de Nardi, the clinic’s director. "But she came to our clinic and we provided medicine -- now she walks perfectly."

Named for the Blessed Artemide Zatti -- a Salesian missionary, pharmacist and nurse noted for his devotion to the poor before his death in 1951 -- the clinic continues his legacy by fulfilling a critical need in an area where a single hospital serves a population of nearly one million people, many of whom live on less than one dollar per day. "Here, health care is not a recognized right," explains Fr. Giampiero. "This situation makes people prefer to die at home rather than seek treatment at the hospital."

The Zatti Clinic follows a favored principle of its namesake: "He who has little, pays little; and the one who has nothing, pays nothing." Every day, residents with limited economic means travel from the city and surrounding villages to Zatti, where they receive treatment for basic conditions, such as intestinal and respiratory infections. They otherwise would wait months to address these ailments, when in many cases, the cure lies in a simple antibiotic. Yet in San Benito Petén, things aren't always so simple.

Referring to the diabetic patient who sought care for her infected leg, Fr. Giampiero explains that in addition to their poverty, two other factors prevent area patients from receiving adequate and necessary care: physicians are poorly trained, and, as a result, are often unable or unwilling to help. "On the one hand it makes me happy that these patients come to us," he explains. "But on the other, it makes me angry. It is not possible for our meager clinic to compete with a structure as big as that of the hospital."

Still, he and his staff persevere, stretching their limited resources as far as they can. Fr. Giampiero is grateful for a recent, significant donation of food, medicine and surgical masks. He is also excited for a pilot program being launched at Zatti, in which two volunteer physicians travel to remote communities once per week, making house calls to patients who are unable to get to the clinic.

Longer-term, Fr. Giampiero hopes to expand the clinic's services and capacity to meet the growing demand for primary and urgent care. Thanks to a generous benefactor, staff will soon offer electrocardiograms, dental examinations and x-rays, and some laboratory services.

In the meantime, Fr. Giampiero and his staff exemplify Don Bosco's advice to his missionaries -- advice that Blessed Artemide Zatti fully embraced himself: "Take special care of the sick, the children, the elderly, the poor." Thanks to the efforts of this small clinic, countless children and families now benefit from his legacy.

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