Venezuelan Government Announces Initiatives to Improve Public Health System

On Monday Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro announced a series of measures aimed at improving public healthcare delivery in Venezuela. Policies include refurbishing hospitals, improving the supply of medical materials to health centers, and increasing doctors’ pay.

By Ewan Robertson - Correo del Orinoco International
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Health Minister Isabel Iturria (left) and President Nicolas Madruo made the announcements (VTV).
Health Minister Isabel Iturria (left) and President Nicolas Madruo made the announcements (VTV).

Speaking on public television from the city of Barquisimeto, Lara state, Maduro officially inaugurated the new “Greater Health Staff” body, which groups together all government officials responsible for health planning and delivery.

The body will liaise with doctors, nurses and local health committees to design and implement policies to improve the South American country’s public healthcare system. Vice President Jorge Arreaza will head the organization, with other members including the minister for health, the vice president of the social area, the minister for science and technology, and the president of the Venezuelan Social Security Institute (IVSS).

Maduro exhorted the Greater Health Staff grouping to “make the use of resources and consolidation of the public health system ever more efficient”.

A second task of the grouping is to ensure the adequate supply of materials, parts and equipment to health centers. This includes overseeing the creation of a publicly-owned Corporation of Technological Services for Medical Equipment, which will coordinate with the national and international private sector.

“Here not a single [medical machine] piece or component should be lacking,” emphasized the Venezuelan president.

The announcement comes after some doctors’ groups warned that public health centers were experiencing insufficient supply of medical materials and equipment. At the time, Health Minster Isabel Iturria said that any “difficulties” in Venezuela’s public health system would be addressed by the government.

On Monday, Nicolas Maduro reminded viewers of the Bolivarian government’s record on health under the presidency of Hugo Chavez. With Cuban support, from 2003 the number of doctors and clinics in the public health system greatly expanded, while health indicators such as infant mortality improved noticeably.

“The Bolivarian revolution is the only guarantee for the development of the National Public Health System,” Maduro argued.

Hospital “Micro Missions”

A second set of measures had to do with improving the infrastructure and service of the nation’s public hospitals, incorporating them more fully into the public health system.

President Maduro announced that the government will establish special hospital programs, called “micro missions”, where teams of health and administration specialists will operate in individual hospitals to resolve problems and optimize hospital functioning. The micro missions will work in eleven hospitals initially, to be extended thereafter.

The Venezuelan president asked hospital workers, nurses and doctors to support the micro missions and help ensure their success. “Let’s begin a new life in the hospital system, with love, discipline, dedication and capacity,” he exhorted.

An additional micro mission will be implemented in the area of surgical operations. The government is to invest BsF 80 million ($12.7 million) to undertake an extra 8,000 elective surgeries over the next three months in order to reduce waiting times in certain non-emergency procedures.

“It’s about taking advantage of idle shifts in surgical theatres during evenings and weekends,” explained Health Minister Isabel Iturria.

In addition, almost BsF 100 million ($15.9 million) was approved for the refurbishment of around 90 hospitals, medical centers and doctors’ surgeries in the public health system in Lara state.

Doctor pay rise

Nicolas Maduro highlighted his government’s commitment to improving the labor conditions of health professionals in the public system, and invited health workers to a “profound ethical reflection” over commitment to public healthcare and helping to solve problems in the sector.

The Venezuelan president made headlines by awarding public sector doctors a 75% pay rise – 50% now and 25% from 1 January 2014. Night shift pay will also be increased, and doctors will gain special access to housing through the government’s mass housing construction program.

Furthermore, Maduro called for the training of up to 60,000 community doctors by 2019, and invited Latin American doctors trained through the Venezuela-Cuba Comprehensive Community Medicine (MIC) program to come to the country and “serve the people of Venezuela”.

When Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998 there were around 18 doctors per 1000 inhabitants in Venezuela. By 2012 this had risen to 58 per 1000 inhabitants.