Mérida, July 18, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, transferred the administration of public hospitals in the country’s capital from the municipal to the federal government Thursday, increased the salary of doctors on the public payroll, and allocated bonuses and permanent positions to public health care workers.
“We are going to lift up these hospitals and we are going to make them top of the line,” Chávez declared during a ceremony as he signed the changes into law by presidential decree, a power granted to him for 18 months by the National Assembly last year.
The federal Health Ministry will now take charge of the hospitals because the municipal government in Caracas does not have a sufficient budget or administrative capacity, Chávez explained.
Chávez also granted full-time, permanent status to 2,286 current workers in the free health clinics of the Barrio Adentro Mission, a federal social program which has drastically increased health care access in poor communities with collaboration from Cuban doctors.
Doctors and dentists from Barrio Adentro clinics had demonstrated earlier this week in front of the Health Ministry to ask for higher salaries. The doctors said that when the government granted more than 3,500 full-time positions to Barrio Adentro doctors and dentists last January, salaries were unjustly cut back.
In response, the president decreed a 30% salary increase for doctors on the public payroll Thursday, plus a one-time bonus of 6,000 bolivars ($2,791) for workers in the public health sector.
He called the increase and the bonus “just and necessary,” and reaffirmed “the government’s commitment to struggle against the deviations that were provoked by capitalism,” such as the exploitation of workers.
“Now, don’t go and spend it all at once,” Chávez told the health care workers, emphasizing that “one thing we must get rid of is consumerism, we have to learn to spend what is necessary.”
The president also acknowledged that the salary increases incurred a government investment of 667 million bolivars ($310 million). Chávez took personal responsibility for assuring these funds are available and “balancing the books. I cannot approve [funds] without having them. That is a serious commitment.”
Last May, the Venezuelan government increased the salaries of all workers on the public payroll by 30%.
Some doctors in the Venezuelan Medical Federation, which is a long-time opponent of the government and critic of the Barrio Adentro Mission, expressed Friday that their salaries continue to be “below expectations” since Venezuela closed the year 2007 with Latin America’s highest inflation rate, more than 22%.
The President of the Federation, Douglas León Natera, called Thursday’s salary increase a “joke” and said Venezuelan doctors are still underpaid. “Rights are not begged for, they are demanded,” León added.
Also during Thursday’s ceremony, President Chávez highlighted some improvements in Venezuela’s general health indicators since he became president 10 years ago. In 1998, he said, Venezuelan life expectancy was 71 years, and now it has increased to 73.
In 1998, the number of mothers who died during child birth was 67 per 1000, but now has been reduced to less than half that, Chávez said. Also, infant mortality has dropped from 21 to 13 per 1000, according to the president.
This is still not ideal though, Chávez asserted, pointing out that in Cuba, infant mortality is less than five per 1,000. “This has to continue decreasing … we have to hurry up and continue improving these indicators,” he urged.
Finally, President Chávez congratulated public health care workers. “I congratulate all the doctors, paramedics, waiters, janitors, all the workers,” he said. “You are carrying out the labor of life, of humanity. Do it each day with more commitment… with more pride.”
Venezuelan health spending as a percentage of the GDP increased from 2.8% in 1997 to 6% last year, and the number of doctors per 100,000 inhabitants increased from 20 to 59.3 during that time, according to Venezuelanalysis.com.