Venezuelan Health Care System On Verge Of Collapseby Brad Warbiany
Venezuela’s health care system, a place only Michael Moore could love:
Palacios, Venezuela’s largest public maternity hospital and once the nation’s beacon of neonatal care, has fallen on hard times. Half of the anesthesiologists and pediatricians on staff two years ago have quit. Basic equipment such as respirators, ultrasound monitors and incubators are either broken or scarce. Six of 12 birth rooms have been shut.
On one day last month, five newborns were crowded into one incubator, said Dr. Jesus Mendez Quijada, a psychiatrist and Palacios staff member who is a past president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation.
The deaths of the six infants “were not a case of bad luck, but the consequence of an accumulation of circumstances that have created this alarming situation,” Mendez said.
He and others say the problems at Concepcion Palacios are symptoms of a variety of ills that have beset the public healthcare system under leftist firebrand President Hugo Chavez. Cases of malaria nearly doubled between 1998, the year before Chavez took office, and 2007. Incidents of dengue fever more than doubled over the same period.
Poorly paid doctors regularly demonstrate at hospitals from Puerto La Cruz in the northeast to Maracay in the industrial heartland, demanding back pay and protesting the lack of equipment and supplies. Others are leaving in droves for Spain, Australia or the Middle East, where they make 10 times the $600 monthly average salary they earn in public hospitals.
Chavez has also been accused of appointing cronies to manage public health. Efforts to arrange an interview with Minister of Popular Power for Health Jesus Mantilla, who served with Chavez in the military, were unsuccessful last week.
Politics and polarization fuel the healthcare debate. Depending on who is speaking, Venezuela is either suffering from the pangs of a new dawn in socialist healthcare or from the monumental incompetence of top-level bureaucrats.
But even government officials acknowledge the public health system in recent months has been on the verge of collapse, evidenced by problems in maternity and postnatal care.
Since the mid-1990s, the death rate of women giving birth has risen 18%, to 59 in every 100,000 deliveries, according to UNICEF. That’s four times the rate in Chile. Venezuela’s infant mortality rate of 18 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2007 was down from 20.5 in 1998, but still double the rate of Chile and higher than other Latin American countries such as Colombia, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
Gonzalez, the university professor, fears that the situation could get worse because maternity hospitals such as Concepcion Palacios are having increasing difficulty finding young pediatricians to pursue neonatal specialty training due to low pay and lack of resources.
“It’s not that before Chavez things were great,” he said. “It’s that things have deteriorated.”
It’s often pointed out that socialism creates equality, but instead of making people equally rich, it makes them equally poor. It is important to look at absolute wealth, not relative wealth, of people within a society.
America is a land with only very mild socialism, but with a vibrant private sector that “raises all boats”. Venezuela is a land awash in oil profits, and with a government that wishes to take care of its citizens from cradle to grave.
Then why is it that the infant mortality rate is 3-4 times higher in the country that is oil-rich and desires to provide healthcare for all citizens? Why is it that Venezuela’s health care system is rife with doctors quitting, a lack of basic supplies and equipment, and a general dissatisfaction and worry from young expectant mothers as quoted in the story? All this while the “evil” capitalist nation enjoys living standards so high that our poorest citizens would be considered middle class or better in a place like Venezuela.
Americans are not by nature more economically-inclined than Venezuelans. In fact, watching Americans get the wool pulled over their eyes by politicians, all the while worrying about the latest antics of Britney Spears, while our educational system is the pariah of the free world, one can claim that we’re less well suited to survival in a free market. Yet we have an institutional history towards capitalism, and the last 400 years of American history have been in a cultural tradition of economic liberalism and individual rights. And that has made all the difference.
Venezuela has a clear path towards prosperity. Unfortunately, they’re currently headed the wrong direction down that path.