The Government of Ecuador provides medical care to all citizens at low cost. Publicly funded health care is offered through state hospitals. However, these hospitals often do not have enough space, medical supplies or staff. This public system is used mostly by the poor.

There is also a private system of health care, which is used mostly by the rich. Ecuador's private hospitals and clinics are among the best in Latin America. The private health facilities are concentrated in the towns and are too far away and too expensive to be used by rural people. Two-thirds of all doctors, specialists and hospitals are located in Quito and Guayaquil, although only a quarter of the population lives in these towns.

Although health in Ecuador has improved over the last 10 years, the health care system still needs to be improved. This is difficult since money for public health care decreases every year. Diseases such as typhoid, cholera, polio, malaria and yellow fever still affect some Ecuadorians. The most common causes of death are heart disease, intestinal infections, lung problems, and traffic accidents.

Some people use traditional medicines to fight illness. When they become ill, they may visit a healer, known in the Quichua language as yachaj mama or yachaj taitas (wise mother or wise father). These healers use herbs, dolls, eggs and guinea-pigs in their treatments. They also exorcise diseases such as malaria. The knowledge needed to be a healer is passed from fathers to sons and from mothers to daughters.

Did you know?

In 1630 an Indian named Loja discovered that the sap from the quina tree (called quinine) could be used to treat people with malaria. This drug was used by British troops in India. Most people do not know that this drug is found in Ecuador and think it is from Asia.

Ecuador has more than 900 plants that can be used for medicine. Pharmacists from around the world go to the Amazon and bring back herbs to make medicines. These medicines are sent back to Ecuador for sale, but the prices are usually too high for most people to afford.

In recent times, traditional knowledge of herbs and traditional cures has been dying out. The herbs used for medicine are also endangered by environmental damage.

Did you know?

A village named Vilcabamba is known as the "sacred valley." The inhabitants claim that people here usually live more than 100 years. Although this claim has never been conclusively proven, the elderly villagers are healthy and active, and many people in their eighties work alongside much younger people.