April 19, 2007

The government's red, very red measles problem

Katy says: The following is an excerpt from an article by my friend, health policy expert and USB professor Marino González. I thought it was worth translating - it provides a simple benchmark with which to judge Chavez's under-performing health policies. My apologies for not providing a link - it was published in Tal Cual and it's subscription only.


From "The government's red, very red measles problem"

In his last address on the State of the Union to the National Assembly, President Chávez said, "today we can say that Venezuela has what it had always lacked: an integral public health system..." Previously, he had stated, "in Barrio Adentro I, we reached 56.9 million medical consultations..." To top it all off, he said, "we have expanded the hospital system, now we are moving to Barrio Adentro IV, Barrio Adentro continues to advance..."


There is a simple way to verify the above. If we had the best health care system we wouldn't have any cases of measles in Venezuela. However, we have the most reported cases in the entire Western hemisphere, according to reports from the Ministry of Health and the Weekly Measles Report published by the Panamerican Health Organization.

The incidence of measles is an excellent indicator of a health system's quality and penetration. Measles is a disease that can be completely erradicated: it is caused by a virus and can be avoided through immunization. The vaccine is affordable and has proven to be effective. Through adequate planning, it is possible to reach the entirety of the population at risk.

Latin America's Ministers of Health set the goal in 1994 to erradicate measles by the year 2000. Many countries in the region have been succesful in this area: the last case reported in Nicaragua was in 1994, in Honduras it was in 1997, in Guatemala in 1998. In Colombia, the last reported case happened in 2000, and in Peru in 2002.

In the red, very red years of the current administration, Venezuela has become an island of measles. In 2002 alone we had 2,392 cases. After no cases between 2003 and 2005, measles made a comeback in 2006 with 92 cases. This was the highest number in Latin America, higher than Brazil's 14 cases or Mexico's 23 cases. No other country in Latin America reported cases of measles.

We have had cases of measles all over the country: in Zulia, Carabobo, Guárico, Amazonas, the Metropolitan District, Miranda and Nueva Esparta. In 2007, there have already been 23 cases reported, four times as many cases as in the United States. No other country in Latin America has reported measles cases in 2007.

President Chávez's government has not passed the measles test. We have a health system that is impotent when faced with simple problems, some of which have been solved in poorer countries. If the National Assembly were truly worried about people's well-being, they would have already launched an investigation. Is the vaccine ineffective? Does it not pass quality controls? Why does the government say the vaccine's coverage is high, and yet we still have cases? Is something similar happening with other vaccines? What is happening with vaccinations in Barrio Adentro? Why is the government not informing about this? There's no doubt about it: the red, very red government's incompetence is behind the surge in measles.