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Guatemala’s State Medical System Overwhelmed, Cuts Back on Services

By: Thabata Molina - Nov 12, 2015, 10:06 am
In some of Guatemala's hospitals, only emergency services are currently available.
In some Guatemalan hospitals, only emergency services are currently available. (Pradpi.org)

EspañolIn his 1999 merengue hit El Niágara en Bicicleta, Dominican trovador Juan Luis Guerra depicted a situation similar to what Guatemalans are currently experiencing at public hospitals. The Central American nation’s health-care system is going through a severe financial crisis. Basic supplies, such as alcohol, gauze, stitching materials, and medicine, are hard to come by.

Four out of the 44 state hospitals in the country claim they can’t afford to pay medical personnel anymore and have shut down all but emergency services, leaving thousands without medical care.

On Monday, November 9, Guatemalan President Alejandro Maldonado admitted that the situation is “critical,” shortly after Health Minister Mariano Rayo addressed the nation.

The hospitals facing a reduction in services are the state-run Roosevelt Hospital, the largest in the country, Jutiapa Hospital in southeastern Guatemala, Quetzaltenango Hospital in western Guatemala, and Amatitlán, to the south of the capital.


“The largest hospital in Guatemala, Roosevelt Hospital, turned away some 6,500 patients.”

The Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office has urged that the government immediately respond the country’s “worst health-care crisis in history.” Their press release notes that state hospitals in the country are operating under the same budget as they did in 2014, even though the number of patients who cannot afford to pay for private care has increased this year.

“We have asked the attorney general and Comptroller General’s Office to launch an investigation into the allocation of those hospitals’ resources, because that’s not under the jurisdiction of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office,” Deputy Prosecutor Hilda Morales tells the PanAm Post. “We have been in charge of making a diagnosis, and we arrived at the conclusion that the situations is serious, and that’s why we suggested the measures that we did.”

Morales says that millions of Guatemalans could suffer from the cutback in services, which includes the cancellation of general-consultation appointments, vaccinations, and prenatal care for pregnant women.

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President Maldonado said on Monday that the government has reallocated US$7.8 million to the Health Ministry to cover the salaries of medical personnel. Morales agrees with the move, but adds that “an analysis on the budgetary execution of other ministries should be done, so the Finance minister can transfer the necessary funds.”

The deputy prosecutor also notes that the country’s current medical crisis goes beyond a lack of funds and an increase in demand. She says “structural failures,” such as corruption within the system, debt, delays in payment to suppliers, and the poor maintenance of medical equipment, are also to blame.

One week ago, the Public Ministry and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) asked Interpol to issue a red notice alert against Gustavo Alejos, the former private secretary of the presidency during the Álvaro Colom administration (2008-2012).

Alejos is wanted over his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal within the Guatemalan Institute for Social Security. Authorities say he received bribes in exchange for securing contracts for medical suppliers.

“On our part, we are looking forward to seeing patients receiving medical care and going to hospitals, because doctors are willing to assist them. They just need the resources to be paid in full, the supplies to provide them treatment, and the medicine to cure them,” Morales explains.

“Some patients have to buy the medicines themselves. We have assisted the most urgent cases, but we can’t cover everyone.”

Translated by Adam Dubove.

Thabata Molina Thabata Molina

Thabata Molina is a Venezuelan reporter who focuses on public safety, violence, and penitentiary conflicts. She has contributed to national newspapers such as El Nacional and El Universal for 12 years. Originally from Caracas, she now lives in Panama. Follow @Thabatica.