What happens when you get injured or sick in a favela that has no road access? How can you get immediate medical care if there is no hospital or emergency room in the favela? These questions has been one of the main obstacles facing residents of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas ever since the first migrants starting setting up their shacks on the steep hillsides of this amazing city.
Last week I experienced what is a daily reality for the residents of the favela of Santa Marta when my friend sprained his ankle playing paintball in the favela. My friend, Jay, had been in a motorcycle accident several months prior to the game and as he was running to evade a determined paintball, he tripped and awoke the older wound. He could not walk on the injured leg and I could tell from the look on his face that he needed immediate medical assistance. I quickly sized up our options. The favela of Santa Marta is spread out over a hill with a very steep incline and the favela lacks a road. Our paintball field sits about half way up the entire favela. Everything must be either carried, by hand, up the byzantine alley ways that extend throughout the favela or taken on an excruciatingly slow elevator that runs along the opposite side from where our paintball field is. The elevator was not an option because we would have to go up hill to reach it. Our only option was to put Jay on my back and walk down the stairs all the way to the plaza where we could hail a taxi, which could take him to the hospital. That is what we did. Our walk down the favela provided great entertainment to the people of Santa Marta as they watched one large and blond foreigner attempt to give a piggy back ride to another foreigner. I took Jay to the hospital which was a couple miles away where he received customarily slow treatment from the Brazilian emergency room.
Proper infrastructure is incredibly important to a community’s development and prosperity. Most of the people living in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro do not have access to a utility that most of us in the west take for granted. My friend and I are two health young men and we could handle the descent. Imagine if it was instead an old grandmother suffering from a heart attack or stroke. She would have no chance to get the medical assistance that is needed. It was a humbling experience to get a small taste of what it means to live in the favela.