Health Clinic in Appalachia evening screening Thursday, 1 September 2016

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This series of photographs was made in a clinic set up in a convention center in Tennessee, providing free health care to Americans without health insurance. The organization is called Remote Area Medical. I was surprised to learn that poor Americans should need to rely on a charity that was originally conceived to treat people in the developing world.

 Remote Area Medical: What began as a mission to parachute doctors and medicine into remotest Guyana, has mushroomed to become the largest operation of its kind in America.

Stan Brock, the founder of RAM in 1985, has now organized nearly 800 free clinics in convention centers and football stadiums. More than 80,000 volunteer doctors and nurses have provided free, basic, but sometimes life-saving healthcare worth more than $100 million to more than half a million Americans, a fraction of a population who cannot afford to be treated or insured. Whole families queue, sometimes for days.

“You could be blindfolded and stick a pin on a map of America and you will find people in need,” Brock says. “We’ve never gone anywhere in the US where there wasn’t a big turnout. Only the geography is different. They’re all there to see the dentists, they’re all there to see the optician. And even if they don’t know it because they’re so preoccupied by the pain in their teeth, they all need to see the doctor, too.”

Canadian and European medical doctors are amazed to hear that poor Americans should need to rely on a charity that was originally conceived to treat people in the developing world. 

Is Obamacare, the President’s fraught attempt to improve access to treatment, going to solve these problems? Brock pulls out a photo taken inside a senator’s office. He stands next to the full text of the Affordable Care Act. The pile of paper towers above him to a height of 10ft. “Nobody has been able to show us where it provides dentistry for adults or eye care and eyeglasses,” he says. “I don’t take sides politically. I’m not an American, I’m just the voice of the homeless and the under-served. But unless they fix these basic things, we’re going to be doing this long after my lifetime.”

Photographer: Timothy Fadek / Redux Pictures