EDITORIAL

Health sick with corruption

A recent international study showed that in the future, women will be increasingly fewer. Given such trend, the said study holds that Romania will disappear as a nation around year 3,200, therefore around 1200 years from now, yet some hundreds of years after other European nations will vanish. While we don’t know whether these predictions will become reality, we nonetheless can say this country is ravished by the most shattering realities. For many years, infant mortality in Romania ranks painfully high Europe-wide, and so do cardio-vascular, renal, broncho-pulmonary diseases, diabetes and even AIDS..  And the proportion of medical professionals emigrating to other countries is much higher than in other European countries.

Given the circumstances, a new health minister being appointed was a reason for hope originally. Yet, such hopes fall flat when associated with thorough research into what caused the unfortunate developments in Romania. The first of it lies with the fact that each of the 19 health ministers over the past two decades only made health crisis grow deep, despite original promises, as they began by staunchly criticising their predecessors only to conclude at the end of their terms it was not their forerunners who lie at the root of all evils but the system being chronically unfunded. Indeed, Romania’s health budget has axed along the years at around 2 pc of the Growth Domestic Product, far lower than that of other European countries.

Yet, not even such scarce budget was spent wisely, and that, since all the 19 health ministers forgot they were representing a national state-run health system and focused on favouring those who helped them come to power instead. It is this corruption that lies at the root of chaotic decentralizations generating as many quality levels of health care as the number of local administrative structures in charge of managing hospitals. It is the hospitals still running we are talking here, since those closed down are yet to be converted into homes for the elderly. Fewer hospitals translate into lost lives, as it happened a few days ago, when a man died in front of a closed hospital. The right to health is among the fundamental human rights and its violation is harshly rejected by international documents. Not in Romania though, where the population growth rate is very low on account of the high infant mortality rate and the many chronic diseases, which foretells Romania being likely to vanish a lot sooner that forecast by the study mentioned earlier.

Nonetheless, health ministers don’t look that far, as they made carpe diem <seize the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future> into a personal slogan aimed at getting rich by fraud. Many of the closed hospitals have piled debts exactly because they were pushed into shady tenders, acquiring overpriced medical equipment and materials. Expensive laboratory equipment has been purchased for hospitals in Timisoara, Sibiu, Bistrita and Brasov, yet lied unused from lack of money or specialists. Such lucrative mafia-type practices started with government loans worth USD 500 M for very expensive sterilising equipment that were left unused and deteriorated in hospital basements.

This must have been the reason for ministers’ concern about the “resistance” of hospital buildings, as substantial amounts of money went into hospital rehabilitations. However, so high were the refurbishing costs that new hospitals could have been built instead. The Baia Mare Hospital a case in point, where EUR 20 M was spent on rehabilitation, and a further EUR 10 M on feasibility studies for eight regional hospitals that has not been erected to this day. And the noxious effects of chaotic decentralization wouldn’t stop here. A host of medical services, among which blood tests, MRI, as well as security, catering  and laundry services have been externalised under the false promise this would lead to savings, which nonetheless turned into increasingly high debts instead.

The medicines Mafia is even greedier, as Romania imports large quantities of medicines since domestic production was undermined by fraudulent privatizations. This is how foreign companies reap huge profits that they won’t invest in Romania, but transfer to their parent companies, with help from Romanian authorities, who decide that free and compensated medicine lists include expensive imported medicines in proportion of up to 70 pc. This in turn led to authorities taking controversial measures, like that reached by the new health minister, who decided to reduce medicine consumption required for free treatment of some chronic diseases., and introducing “co-payment” so those who want more should pay for it out of their own pocket. The financing has been stopped for chronic disease medicines  as… such diseases are more frequent now and medicines cost too much. Therefore, pay heed and don’t get sick with chronic diseases, since the patient number is so high already!

If such decisions no longer spark social protests is also because they have become increasingly more often, which could in turn lead to anarchy, which, in the health system is tantamount to death.

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