24 May 2019 — Countercurrents Team
The World Health Organization (WHO) has cited the universal healthcare system in Bolivia as a model for all.
Media reports said:
The U.N.’s World Health Organization praised Bolivia’s newly implemented universal health care system, known in the country as the Single Health System (SUS).
The WHO pointed out that Bolivia’s leftist government has given generous funding and resources to health, ensuring free treatment for all.
Alfonso Tenorio, a representative of the WHO and the Pan American Health Organization, spoke Wednesday in Geneva, in praise of Bolivia’s health system.
Tenorio spoke afterwards with state radio company Red Patria Nueva, saying, “Bolivia has become an important model for the world. The country’s health minister is always taking advantage of the strength of others and the exchange of knowledge to strengthen the SUS.”
The day before, Carina Vance, UNASUR representative, also praised Bolivia’s leftist government, saying that they have “deepened the right to healthcare.”
The SUS was officially initiated on March 1, 2019, ensuring that millions of previously uninsured Bolivians now have access to free treatment.
In the first 20 days of the system being launched, it was announced that over 30,000 had received free treatment.
The SUS has also initiated vaccination campaigns across the country. In one such campaign, over 80,000 were inoculated in just one week, in the department of Cochabamba.
Experts have argued that such social programs are possible thanks to the nationalization of much of the country’s natural resources in 2006.
Equitable, Effective, Efficient
An earlier Prensa Latina report said:
Gabriela Montaño, Bolivia’s Minister of Health, presented the facts related to the achievements of the SUS in Bolivia. She made the presentation at the 72nd World Health Assembly held in Geneva.
The Bolivian Minister confirmed that, since March 1, when SUS was implemented, more than a million people have received care, and more than two-thirds of that number is women.
It recalled that Law 1152 was enacted last February to benefit more than five million uninsured people in the South American country, as well as the prevention and early diagnosis of chronic non-communicable diseases.
The minister stated that an integrating model under the primary health care approach is the keystone for achieving this goal.
Montaño raised the challenge of achieving an ‘equitable, effective and efficient’ system, while hoping to reach that goal with the mutual support of countries and the preponderance of international public health interests.
She stressed that the impact of universal coverage is not only individual; on the contrary, it represents an opportunity to materialize equality, to become a factor of social change.
She also urged the international community to firmly undertake the path towards universal health coverage, a decision that future generations will recognize.
Free healthcare for all
It should be mentioned that with the launching of the SUS by Bolivia’s President Evo Morales Bolivia became the latest Latin American country to roll out free healthcare to the poorest citizens, which will reach an estimated five million people.
At least 70 percent of the Bolivian population will be covered by SUS, which was described by the WHO spokesperson Fernando Leanes as extraordinary and a model for Latin America at the opening conference in Cochabamba on Friday.
“The results are extraordinary in public health and collective health. They can be seen in the reduction of infant mortality, child malnutrition, the number of professionally attended births, diseases being put under control, and population’s healthy life years,” he said, acknowledging that Bolivia has tripled spending on health since 2006.
With the introduction of the SUS, Morales delivers one of his key election pledges made in 2014 in which he vowed to introduce a system that would bring healthcare to those without insurance, many of whom live in Bolivia’s hard to reach rural areas.
SUS will use new technology, including mobile phone and teleclinics to improve access to specialized medical services in distant communities.
“We currently have 46 telemedicine centers connected through the Tupac Katari satellite and 294 centers connected by optical fiber,” said a Bolivian Health Ministry statement.
Under the presidency of Morales, Bolivia is the Latin American country that has done the most to reduce levels of extreme poverty, according to WHO statistics.
The government has allocated $200 million to support the sustainability of the new system by improving equipment, supplies, and infrastructure.
Public sector doctors in Bolivia went on a 48-hour strike Wednesday in response to a government move to make healthcare free for all. The strike was announced in January 2019.
Doctors working in public hospitals responded to the government program by announcing that they would put down their tools.
According to the health ministry, some 5.8 million of Bolivia’s 11 million population do not have health insurance but will be given access to free services once the registration period is completed in the next three months.
Diseases and illnesses covered by the universal health care system will include Parkinson’s, child cancer, diabetes, pneumonia, flu and dental problems.
The health ministry said the program would have a budget of around $230 million.
But Erwin Viruez, president of Bolivia’s professional medical college, said that fund would not be enough. “We’re going to need one billion dollars, at least, but this won’t be enough to guarantee universal healthcare,” he said. “We don’t have any supplies, there aren’t enough beds.”
President Evo Morales called on striking doctors to engage in dialogue.
Venezuela and Brazil experienced the same type of doctors’ strike when Chavez and Dilma announced wider healthcare initiative and to engage Cuban doctors in Venezuela and Brazil respectively as local doctors were unwilling to go to the slums and far-flung rural areas inhabited by the poor. In those two countries, the striking doctors’ argument for strike was different from their Bolivian peers.
The Plurinational State of Bolivia, located in central-western South America, has a land area measuring 1,098,581 km2. In 2016, the population was 10,985,059 inhabitants (66% urban and 34% rural), with a population density of 9.7 inhabitants per km². There are 36 constitutionally recognized nations with their respective languages, and 40.7% of Bolivians say they belong to an indigenous, native, campesino, or Afro-Bolivian nation.
In 2016, life expectancy at birth was 71.9 years for both sexes (75.3 for women and 68.6 for men). The population has been growing at 1.5% annually, with a total fertility rate of 2.9 children per woman.
Between 2012 and 2016, the crude birth rate declined from 24.44 to 22.77, the survival rate increased, and the population aged.