Development & Aid, Headlines, Health, Latin America & the Caribbean

HEALTH-VENEZUELA: Full System Collapse Follows Week of Strikes

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, Sep 9 1998 (IPS) - The entire medical staff of one hospital were sacked and irate gun-wielding individuals demanded doctor’s attend their relatives in Venezuela, as the first week of health strikes came to a close.

Stoppages in the public health sector started in the Federal District and now extend to five states, with some 6,000 doctors on strike, 35 hospitals and 500 out-patients departments either closed or in chaos.

This Tuesday 20 professional associations linked to the health area stated they would join the strike, while several hospitals are still full of patients refusing to leave until they are attended refusing to accept their medical discharge.

The strike became an issue for December’s presidential election campaigns, with all major candidates giving their position on the crisis.

Leaders supporting the hot favourite, Hugo Chavez, backed the protest but called for mediation from the Catholic Church, while the number two, Henrique Salas, classed it as “a people-killing strike.”

Doctors are demanding their salaries be doubled, but their union leaders have shown themselves willing to negotiate in exchange for the restitution of the collapsed Venezuelan Social Security Institute (IVSS), within wholescale social security reforms.

“This is promoting an ascending escalation of hate which is inciting something serious in this country, running beyond the ends of a union protest,” said Doctor Eduardo Villasmil, one of the few who turned up to work in the emergency department of one Caracas hospital.

Friday the government issues a “return to work” order, which compels strikers in essential services to go back. However, doctors did not comply with the measure and the number of strikers actually increased.

According to official figures, nearly 70 percent of Venezuela’s 23 million inhabitants live in poverty and are dependent on the public health service.

This, meanwhile, is in a seriously deteriorated state due to a lack of supplies and equipment and the practical inoperational state of the IVSS – criticised for corruption at all levels.

The decision made by Governor of Caracas, retired General Moises Orozco, to sack the 142 doctors at one of the biggest hospitals in the capital only made the conflict more radical, and the few doctors still at work declared they were being overstretched as a result of the crisis.

This Monday, in another hospital, a woman suffering apparent signs of a heart attack was forced to wait for medical attention until her desperate son pulled out a gun on staff.

The Venezuelan Medical Federation rejected the strike, but was pushed aside by the capital’s collegiate of doctors. The Venezuelan Workers Centre, the biggest in the nation, does not back the strike either “as it attacks the poorest people.”

What independent analysts classed as the “point of no return” Tuesday, occurred with the sacking of the medical staff of the Lidice hospital, after they abandonned their posts en masse for five days, without supplying promised coverage in emergency and other essential areas.

President of the Collegiate of Doctors of the Federal District, Fernando Bianco, said this measure only “strengthened the response of the medical union” complaining that while the government claims it has no money to cover a pay increase, it can afford to lay off the medical professionals.

Planning Minister, Teodoro Petkoff, countered that funds for the redundnacy payments would come from a special fund for reducing personnel in public administration.

Petkoff accused Bianco of having the attitude of a mafioso, when the latter offered to limit salary demands in return for them not definitively eliminating the IVSS from the year 2000.

“Under the code of Vito Corleone (the main character of the novel ‘the Godfather’) this is what is called blackmail or extortion,” said Petkoff, who already came up against Bianco in a previous tough national strike in January 1997.

The minister said Bianco would have to explain why he was defending one of the State entities most rejected by the population, adding some 2,300 doctors picked up earnings here either without working or without fulfilling their schedules.

 
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HEALTH-VENEZUELA: Full System Collapse Follows Week of Strikes

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, Sep 8 1998 (IPS) - The entire medical staff of one hospital were sacked and irate gun-wielding individuals demanded doctor’s attend their relatives in Venezuela, as the first week of health strikes came to a close.
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