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Monday, June 27, 2011

A Crisis A Day Keeps The Dictator Away

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is taking it easy in a Cuban hospital with the brothers grim Fidel and Raul. In May the dictator left behind a government  imploding from failing socialist polices to go on a tour of the Latin American States Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Colombia. Venezuela is a crumbling nation plagued by chronic electrical black-outs prison revolts and employment strikes resulting in Hugo loosing his political control and the public confidence.

The trip was intended to bolster sales for the failing state owned oil giant PetrĂ³leos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and to garner support for his up-coming presidential bid. PetrĂ³leos’s production is down 800,000 barrels a day and refineries are off by 70%. With the rise in oil prices  cash strapped Chavez took the opportunity to pander for a well needed petro-cash injection for his 2012 presidential campaign.

During the trip Chavez took ill with abdominal pain and instead of going back home for medical treatment he went to Cuba and checked into a hospital in Havana. The same hospital that Venezuelan Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russian, a close ally of President Hugo Chavez checked into earlier in the year and later died, a cause of death was never disclosed. Reports suggest that Chavez had a pelvic abases removed but other reports infer that he may have cancer.

So why would a head of state not seek medical treatment within his home country? Would it be a lack of confidence in the quality of care that he would receive? The medical community in Venezuela has been in term-oil for years and recently has fallen into total disarray. Under the government controlled health care system hospitals and private clinics have had their resources depleted in favor of the Barrio Adentro clinics. The government has also instituted restrictions on private health insurance companies siting the need for “social justice” in the form of “universal health care”. For the most part people with employer provided health care benefits are working for the larger companies that have been  nationalised by President Chavez.

The national Barrio Adentro scheme, as originally planed was the participation of the local community in small health centers delivering general care. These centers operate with a staff consisting of Cuban doctors, nurses and people from the community. Barrio Adentro is funded and supplied by the Cuban government. For all intensive purposes the medical personal are working as indentured servants for meager wages. After several years in the Barrio system the Cubans usually try to seek asylum in the United States or split for greener pastures in other Latin American countries. The rate of turnover and defection is so great that the entire Barrio system has fallen far short of it’s stated goal of 42,000 facilities and is just a hollow shell consisting of a poorly run understaffed bureaucracy.

Doctors belonging to the Venezuelan Doctors Federation have been taking protest measures to get the attention of the Ministry for Health. They began with work stoppages of 4 hours and eventually grew to 12 hour daily protests. Their claims for better salaries have not been heard and conditions in public hospitals have deteriorated to the point of closure. The doctors have vowed to stop all services in public hospitals nationwide if the government doesn't comply with what according to them is their right for a decent salary and working conditions.

A health reporter for the "El Universal"newspaper, described the public hospitals as increasingly dangerous places, where underpaid, under supplied, and understaffed doctors work in unsanitary conditions to provide medical services to Venezuela's poor. Due to shortages of basic medical supplies, doctors ask patients to purchase their own needles, disinfectants and gauze.

Observers say that doctors sometimes redress wounds with the same dirty bandages and other patients are told to bring their own X-rays from private clinics. In many areas of Caracas, public hospitals suffer from water shortages which force doctors to postpone important operations. At the older public hospitals, the plumbing systems are so inadequate water can not be accessed at the upper floors of  the building.

In recent months, open source intelligence reports indicate that Venezuelan public hospitals are in a state of  crisis citing activities by patients and doctors to protest shortages of medicine and supplies. These shortages  threatened the shut down of the Enrique Tejera Hospital. At the Negra Hipolita Maternity Ward  a "technical closure" was reported after the breakdown of the air conditioning system raised concerns that the heat would increase bacteria levels in the incubators for newborn babies.Doctors in Merida had shut down the University Hospital of Los Andes (HULA) due to medical supply shortages and pronouncing the hospital "dead."

In 2009 the breakdown of public hospitals across the country lead to the resignation of 140 physicians, as a result the Jesus Yerena de Lidice Hospital shut down. Lidice is one of the nations largest and most important public hospitals servicing  the impoverished Catia community of Caracas. The shutdown lasted for a three month period, patients and doctors protested shortages of medical supplies, renovation delays  and unpaid wages and benefits. The conflict escalated  when the Health Ministry suspended four of Lidice's doctors after charging them with inciting protests among the patients. Lidice's doctors resigned en masse after the Health Ministry refused to reinstate the four suspended doctors and
resume negotiations over salary payments and benefits owed since 2007. The resignations paralyzed Lidice, leaving only two doctors a internal specialist and a surgeon-to care for the
remaining patients.

Lidice reopened only after  the Health and Labor Ministry agreed to reinstate the four suspended physicians and resume negotiations over the other demands. Portions of the hospital remain  closed to emergency services and the maternity services.

Government interference has put the Venezuelan people in a health care crisis that is severely impacting the welfare of the nation. This is Just the situation the United States will be in if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does not get repealed.

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