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Venezuela's public health system: a very deliberate decline

By Veneconomy

08.09.05 | When Hugo Chávez was sworn in as President of Venezuela in 1999, he faced an arduous task in an area when corruption and negligence had wreaked havoc: the public health system. Close to seven years later, not only has he failed in this task, the balance sheet of his administration shows a decline that is almost beyond belief. Incompetence or a very deliberate strategy aimed at imposing his revolution?

The current situation is graphically described in a report dated August 27, 2005, put out by the Venezuelan Medical Federation, exposing the full extent of the serious crisis in which the sector is mired. According to the report, the problems range from hospital infrastructure –crumbling to pieces from lack of maintenance— shortages of equipment, drugs and medical supplies, to a state of total decay in units providing such vital services as dialysis, radiotherapy, intensive care and other equally or more important treatments. All this has been aggravated by “mismanagement” in the area of staffing policies, prompting a crisis among medical personnel when retirees were not replaced and new jobs were not created to meet the increasing demand for medical care.

The clearest, and most horrifying, example of this situation was the death of four patients at the Los Magallanes hospital two weeks ago. In addition, the lack of planning in the sector has cut into the money needed for prevention campaigns, leading to reappearance of diseases that had been eliminated –measles, for one (the only outbreak on the entire continent)-- and a shameful resurgence of others such as dengue fever, tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. To top it off, there is the proliferation of diarrheal illnesses and a constant rate of infant mortality due to widespread malnutrition.

What looks like incompetence may, however, be a carefully planned strategy. Barrio Adentro, the parallel structure created to cope with the problem, is actually a mission lacking organization or order, impossible to monitor or audit, whose real purpose is to push the revolutionary ideas, place Cuban spokesmen among the most poverty-stricken and (once again) put the population at the mercy of government handouts, making them feel they owe their health to the President.

However, by neglecting one of the essential mandates he was given by the people on a life-or-death issue, President Chávez may have opened up Pandora’s box.

Now that the health care system its on its last legs, when it is hitting home that Barrio Adentro is not enough to solve health problems, and the havoc is becoming notorious, it is merely a matter of time before we witness a clash between a population fed up with being ignored and a government blinded by its will to impose a revolution that nobody asked for.

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