A community with no COVID-19 vaccines. A father unable to find enough work to afford his kids’ doctor visits. Families living in the shadows, lacking documentation and health insurance. Entire cities without mental health resources. You don’t have to go far to find these problems—they are everyday reality right here in the United States.
For more than sixty years Project HOPE has helped millions of people across the globe improve their access to health care. With widespread needs and worldwide inequities growing, why would a global nongovernmental organization with such a history also focus on improving health outcomes in the United States? Because many of the same inequities that prevent people from obtaining health care worldwide are also found right here at home.
Project HOPE has a long history of domestic operations. COVID-19, however, revealed just how deep health inequities in the US run. That’s why we’re expanding our work in this country to address broader health inequities and support communities that have limited or no access to care.
There are many barriers that keep people from health care, and the places you’ll find them can be surprising. For example, Harris County, Texas, is home to Houston and its world-class hospitals—but it also has one of the largest immigrant and refugee populations in the US, many of whom cannot access even basic health care. Just an hour southwest of Houston, Wharton, Texas, suffers from both a disproportionately high poverty rate and the related ills that can pose obstacles to obtaining health care, such as low incomes, underinsurance, limited transportation options, and work arrangements that allow for little or no time off for illness or doctor visits.
Project HOPE, through a new program funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, is improving access to COVID-19 vaccines through four free and charitable clinics in Houston and McAllen, Texas, near the US-Mexico border. These clinics hired local community health workers and vaccinators to expand vaccination to uninsured and low-income populations—including immigrants, migrants, and recent Afghan refugees.
Community health workers are the bridges that link people to care, and they have always played a crucial role in our global health work. Now we’re using them to do the same thing in the US. In Texas, community health workers are working tirelessly to build trust in underserved communities, knocking on doors and providing the resources to fight disinformation. Because of their work, thousands of people will be newly vaccinated.
On a recent trip to see this work in action, Project HOPE’s senior communications officer, Scott Latta, saw firsthand how easy it is for Americans to fall through the cracks, even when the best care in the world is within arm’s reach.
“People came to these clinics from all walks of life,” he said. “Though the vaccine had been available for nearly a year, so many families simply hadn’t had the opportunity to take it. Either it wasn’t available near their home, or they couldn’t get off work, or they were afraid to go to a doctor for fear of deportation. This work is meeting a real need in these communities and establishing a level of trust that will carry over to other areas of care.”
Free and charitable clinics are just one way in which Project HOPE is connecting underserved communities to health care. By increasing their capacity, we live up to our mission of building a world where everyone can obtain the care they deserve, regardless of where they live.
We’ll never address health equity around the world if we can’t achieve it with our own neighbors here at home.