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Helping patients to conquer illiteracy and learn for life

Fresenius Medical Care hosts ‘schools’ for basic education at clinics in Argentina

Teacher Víctor Echeverría instructs dialysis patient Eugenia in biology at the Fresenius Medical Care clinic in San Justo, La Matanza, a district of Greater Buenos Aires.

Staff members at Fresenius Medical Care clinics in Argentina know that when a patient says “I’ll read it later – I forgot my glasses,” it may be more than mere forgetfulness: The patient may be trying to conceal an inability to read and write.

(Published: August 2015)

Despite Argentina’s high overall literacy rate, a third of Fresenius Medical Care’s patients in the country do not have a primary school diploma. This results directly in a high rate of functional illiteracy.

Whether it was poverty, growing up in a remote rural area at a time when regular school attendance was not possible for many children, or some other cause, the reasons for lacking a basic education are many. The serious life-long problems that illiteracy causes, however, are clear: significantly reduced enjoyment of life and a much higher chance of being poor. And from the perspective of Fresenius Medical Care’s work, a patient’s inability to read can have seriously negative consequences for their compliance with the treatment regime.

Yet having these patients coming regularly to the same location, where they will required to sit largely immobile for four hours, free from outside distractions, also represents an opportunity to help.

This opportunity is one that Fresenius Medical Care started using in 2008 by working with government to open a “school” for patients in a company dialysis clinic. In cooperation with the education ministries of several provinces, 18 of these schools are now operating in Fresenius Medical Care clinics in Argentina, each staffed by teachers specializing in adult education. Sixteen of the schools teach a general primary school curriculum with a heavy emphasis on reading and writing (five of them also offer secondary school courses), while two teach basic computer skills.

Francisco, who is at the primary school level, takes a lesson from teacher Humberto Echeverri while undergoing treatment at the Fresenius Medical Care clinic in Pilar, near Buenos Aires.

Some 500 patients are currently taking part in this public-private initiative, with 53 already having received a primary school diploma. The students are equally divided between men and women. More than 85 percent of them are at least 40 years of age.

The schooling makes participating patients feel they are making more productive use of the many hours being spent in dialysis. They say they can now understand the literature about their therapy and better follow written instructions dealing with such things as diet. But beyond even these hugely important practical benefits, the clinic staff has noticed something else about the patients who have taken part: they feel more socially involved as a result.

“My family is delighted – my son helps me with my homework,” said one patient. Another patient at the clinic in San Justo said: “It is something I always wanted, but it seemed far away from my possibilities.”

With company and education officials delighted at the success of the program, Fresenius Medical Care hopes to expand it into additional clinics in coming years, to help even more patients. Due to the growing number of patients who have now graduated primary school, the focus on secondary education will be increased, and the potential for more specific career-oriented training is also being explored.

“We are aware that educational deficits in dialysis patients can be a problem in other latitudes as well,” said Gabriela Cannatelli, CEO of Fresenius Medical Care Argentina. “This solution – providing a learning environment – has broadened our perspective of opportunities to respond to patient’s needs, and improve their quality of life.”