Day 8: Hearing the other side

I got a little behind on the blog as our trip winded down. We were really busy finishing up our work. Thursday was our last full day in Panama and we wrapped up our week with a few interviews, some sightseeing and a farewell dinner with our group.

I had the opportunity of interviewing the director of the Panamanian health department in the afternoon. We had a 2 p.m. appointment and during the interview I hoped to get several questions answered about why this important drug has not been legalized in Panama despite proven studies that it works and can improve the quality of life for these children. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the answers I was hoping for.

We arrived a few minutes early and were kept waiting for an hour before we were told that the director was too busy and could not see us. This is a recurring theme for Dayana, the president of the Crystal Kids Foundation. Dayana and her assistant Giovanni waited with me and the other two girls on our crew. It was frustrating. It was also painful to watch the sadness on Dayana’s face as her cause was ignored again.

Luckily though on our way to the elevator, the director’s secretary stopped us and said that he could meet with us and we did

The health office told us earlier in the day that the director spoke English so we did not bring our translator. We had other interviews going on at the same time as our appointment, so we thought that would work out.

Unfortunately it didn’t. He began conversing with Dayana in Spanish as I followed along taking notes. Then my first question was “Do you speak English?” and he said he didn’t which would make it very difficult for me to interview him.

I did my best to ask questions in Spanish, but my Spanish skills are a bit rusty. I made it work after the director began speaking some words and phrases in English. I got the impression that he spoke English, but was playing dumb in order to avoid the tough questions.

The only excuses I got out of him regarding bringing the drug to Panama for these kids was that because there are less than 60 reported cases in the country, there are not enough people with it to peek interest in the drug companies. That angered me. He also claimed it wasn’t the job of his office to help Dayana and her foundation. He pushed it off on another office, which I don’t even think exists.

He spent most of the interview avoiding the truth and that is that the Panamanian government is ignoring these children and their condition. It makes me angry, but hopefully with our Web site we can raise awareness and get some Panamanian media coverage that will help resolve this problem.

After the interview Dayana broke down in the parking lot as I tried to console her. She is such an inspiration. She faces such a tough challenge to help these kids and she has to tear down walls as she does it. I got to see how hard that is to do.

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