Venezuelan Doctors to Receive 60% Pay Raise and More Investment in Hospitals

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced a 60% salary increase for doctors in Venezuela's public health sector yesterday and presented more details on government spending on existing and new hospitals.
Chavez is greeted by pro-government doctors in the Teresa Carreño theater during a commemoration for the 40-year anniversary of Che Guevara's death. (Marcelo García)

Caracas, October 9, 2007 ( Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced a 60% salary increase for
doctors in Venezuela's
public health sector yesterday. He made the announcement during a ceremony
commemorating forty years since the assassination of Argentine doctor and hero
of the Cuban revolution, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.

increase of 60% is just and necessary…this is justice for those that work for the life and health of the
Venezuelan people," Chavez declared. The pay increase would take effect on
November 1 and will include increased Christmas bonuses he assured.

Chavez's announcement
comes two weeks after a dispute erupted in six of Venezuela's public hospitals, led
by the Venezuelan Medical Federation (FMV) demanding salary increases and
improved working conditions. However, community activists at the time argued
the campaign was politically motivated and initiated by opposition sectors to create
instability throughout the country the lead up to the referendum on the
constitutional reform.

Doctors from Hospital Domingo Luciani de El Llanito
also questioned the motives and participation of figures from the FMV,
particularly president of the FMV, Douglas León Natera, who openly supported
the coup government of Pedro
Carmona Estanga in
April 2002, which suspended discussion on doctor's union demands.

According to the FMV, the average salary of doctors
is Bs. 800 000 (US$372) a month and that they are demanding Bs. 3 million (US$1,395)
per month.

However, Chavez
said he was "conscious" of the "backwardness" of the salaries of doctors in the
country and said that the salary increase would be funded by the increased
revenues from oil exports.

Natera said
he welcomed the new plan but said the existing public health centres are in a
"technical stoppage" because of lack of surgical equipment.

Minister of
Health, Jesús Mantilla, denied that the
hospitals are short of surgical equipment as suggested by the FMV and argued
that the doctors that are denouncing this situation, "are the same doctors that
sold out the country" who "destroyed" the installations and facilities that "
the government is now recuperating."

Chávez also rejected opposition allegations
about the "low quality" of Mission Barrio Adentro, a government funded program
of universal healthcare for the poor staffed by mostly Cuban doctors. He added that
Mission Barrio Adentro has carried out more than 200 million consultations
since 2003, saved more than 57,000 lives, and carried out 28 million dental consultations,
among others figures.

Chavez has
criticised Venezuelan doctors, particularly from the private sector, who have
refused to work in the barrios and provide free healthcare to the poor. He
explained that Venezuela
is aiming to train thousands to eventually replace the Cuban doctors. Of the
students who are currently studying Integral Community Medicine in Venezuela,
Chavez reported that 10,835 students were promoted to third year, 6,828 passed
to second year, in addition a further 7,132 will begin their studies in

"It is time to think seriously of
the new direction that medicine in Venezuela has to take. We are going
to make a radical change and leave behind the inhuman, capitalist medicine, an
instrument of exploitation of the people, medicine as a career to climb the
social ladder…We will be like Che [Guevara]," he added.

Chavez also
assured he is working towards the reconstruction of the national hospital
infrastructure, which was decentralised in the 1990s. "Of the 220 hospitals
that we have in Venezuela,
we are working in 62 with an investment of Bs. 2.6 trillion [US$ 1.2 billion]."

September 30 Chavez also announced the construction of an additional fifteen
general hospitals in Venezuela
over the next four years as part of a "plan of consolidation of the national
public health system."

As part of
the celebrations commemorating the life of Che Guevara, three new operating centers,
a center for anaesthesiology, and a post-operation recuperation center were
also inaugurated in Barquisimeto,
capital of the state of Lara.

Governor of
Lara, Luis Reyes Reyes, inaugurated the new medical installations and said the
new installations increased the capacity of the hospital for surgical
operations from 4,000 operations per year to 8,500.

He also
said that the operating capacity of Venezuela's hospitals had increased
under the Chavez government from 16,000 operations per year in 1988 to more
than 65,000 per year in 2007.

Chavez also asked Fidel Castro for authorization to broadcast his weekly television program Alo Presidente, next Sunday, from Santa Clara, Cuba, the site of a monument
honoring Che Guevara.