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.
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.