Chavez Re-launches Venezuela’s Flagship “Barrio Adentro” Healthcare Program

During his weekly television show "Hello President" on Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inaugurated three new three new Integral Diagnostic Centres as part of a plan to relaunch the government's healthcare program Mission Barrio Adentro.
A new Integral Diagnostic Centre in Caucagua, inaugurated on Sunday (Simón Garcia)

Caracas october 6, 2009 ( – During his weekly
television show "Hello President" on Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inaugurated
three new three new Integral Diagnostic Centres (CDI's) in Mérida, Miranda, and Bolívar states
as part of a plan to relaunch the government's
flagship healthcare program Mission Barrio Adentro (Inside the Barrio).

On September 20 Chavez declared an "emergency situation" in the health
sector saying that Mission Barrio Adentro, which provides free health care to all
Venezuelans, had deteriorated with some 2,000
of the total 6,700 local medical clinics being abandoned.

despite ongoing structural challenges and opposition claims that Mission Barrio
Adentro, staffed largely by Cuban doctors, has failed, Chavez pointed out the
significant achievements and importance of the health care program.

to the government, Mission Barrio Adentro has saved 226,334 lives and, among
other services, the diagnostic centres have carried out 237 million blood tests
and 100 million electrocardiograms, the latter with a unit cost of 300 Bolivars
(US$139) in the private health system, Chavez said.

"Ten years
ago there were no doctors for the poor, now everything here is free," he added.

It is
estimated that approximately 15 million Venezuelans regularly access the
program, which together with other social missions in the areas of education,
welfare and training, has been one of the Chavez government's most popular

Barrio Adentro, which was launched in 2003, is divided into various stages, all
of which are free.

Adentro I consists of 6,711 primary healthcare clinics throughout the entire
country serviced by 7,964 doctors (1,641 of which are Venezuelan).

Adentro II, which involves 4,477 doctors, is composed of 499 Integral
Diagnostic Centres (CDI's), 445 rehabilitation centres and 27 High Technology
Centres (CAT's). The first of the CDI's were opened in June 2005 in Maturin,
Monagas State, with the goal of constructing 600 around the country.

Adentro III involves the renovation of Venezuela's existing public hospital
system and Barrio Adentro IV includes the construction of new comprehensive and
specialized hospitals.

As part of
the re-launch plan, last week Chavez announced the approval of 750.7 million
Bolivars (US$349 million) for all stages of the program, which includes free
distribution of medicines. Of the total, 400 million Bolivars ($ 186 million)
was allocated to Barrio Adentro IV.

The head of
state also emphasised the humanitarian social work performed by Cuban doctors
in the different centres.

"The care
and medicine here in the health centres is free, and specialists serve the
people without distinction. We stand for free medical attention, and not, as
under capitalism, for private clinics and private medicine," he said.

At present
there are around 28,000 Cuban healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses,
specialists and sports teachers, working in Venezuela. The government aims to
increase this figure to 32,000 with another 4,000 Cuban doctors expected to
arrive by the end of October in order to revamp the health sector.

hundred Cuban medical students will also arrive in Venezuela by the end of
October to start their medical internships together with 3,000 Venezuelan
students. In January next year a further 9,000 fifth and sixth year Venezuelan
medical students will also begin internships in Venezuelan hospitals through
the Barrio Adentro Program.

Adolfo Delgado, president of the Bolivarian Society of General
Comprehensive Medicine blamed former Health Minister Jesus Mantilla for the
deterioration of the healthcare program.

Many staff
had been left in "limbo" due to Mantilla's inefficient administration, but are
now resuming their posts in the clinics Delgado

One of the
first decisions of the new Health Minister, Carlos Rotondaro, who replaced Mantilla in August, was
to do an analysis of the real situation of Barrio Adentro, specifically in
relation to staffing and equipment.

said that the fact that President Hugo Chávez declared health "emergency" was a
recognition of the situation and showed a commitment to take the necessary steps
to improve it. "Operationally Barrio Adentro declined, it's not the mission it
once was," he admitted.

Asked why
the government was incorporating more Cuban doctors into the program, Rotondaro
stressed the important social role the Cuban doctors are playing in the

Dianela Parra, vice-president of the opposition-aligned Venezuelan Medical
Federation (FVM) opposed the arrival of more Cuban doctors arguing they were
not properly qualified.

Since the
Barrio Adentro Program was first launched many Venezuelan doctors have refused
to participate in the provision of free healthcare to the poor, preferring
instead to operate more lucrative private clinics.

For his part, Delgado welcomed the arrival of
the additional 4,000 Cuban doctors in the country as a "positive step" but
contended it is necessary to involve more Venezuelan doctors in the program to
ensure its long-term sustainability.

Currently a
total of 2,500 Venezuelan doctors are working in the program, although the
government has massively expanded placements for studying medicine through the
Bolivarian university system to train more Venezuelan doctors.

also argued, "It is necessary to change the face of the administration" to
improve the functioning of the program.

Regional committees
of the Barrio Adentro Foundation should be either eliminated or reorganised, he
said, because, in his view, in 90% of cases they have been ineffective in
responding to the problems of staffing, equipment and pay among others.

Aware of
structural problems in the administration and funding of the various social
missions, President Chavez announced on September 19 the integration of all the
social missions into a single system that will have a single fund to avoid the
lack of coordination.

According to
Delgado, the community should also participate actively in social oversight to
ensure that the programs succeed.

Istúriz, a leader of Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) also
called on party activists to participate, together with local health
committees, in voluntary work to recuperate the social mission.

During the
month of September Istúriz said PSUV members carried out voluntary work to
renovate schools around the country.

"Now we should raise our hands with enthusiasm,
everyone, to help in the recovery process and maintenance of the various health
centres," he added.