The daily threat our society faces because of the coronavirus has led to a veritable communication operation by the government, which although sometimes being untimely proved at least necessary. The risks of Covid-19 and the ease of its spread are clear and have transformed it into a pandemic of biblical proportions. In this sense, the government has been active, despite constant communication errors and although legitimate public health concerns have been diluted by economic policies that right-wing governments prioritize.
However, both aspects cloud other momentous problems that our health system confronts and which have been a fundamental part of the demands articulated during last October’s social outburst.
In public surveys, healthcare appears usually as Chileans’ prime concern. Just over the last year, before Covid-19 arrived, the issue gained 15% in importance, making it the No. 1 public concern. Considering this, and without depreciating the importance of the coronavirus: What happened to all the problems health minister Jaime Mañalich had promised to solve before the social uprising in October? Worries over high drug prices remain a pending issue, as proposed solutions are still in the ‘outbox’ folder.
It is important to remember that according to the latest survey conducted by the health institute at Universidad Andrés Bello, Chileans spend on average 13% of their incomes on drugs, with senior citizens being the most affected. But this is not the only issue that has fallen by the wayside. Also unresolved are the unilateral increase of prices for private healthcare plans – vital for a substantial part of the population in a country with a crippled public healthcare system – the demands of medical personnel working under precarious conditions, and the lack of influenza vaccines.
We have heard many proposals from both President Piñera and minister Mañalich to tackle citizens’ healthcare demands. Yet, and despite many conferences held, the problems have not gone away. Unlike issues such as pensions, minimum wage, taxes and even the Constitution, where real progress is being made, healthcare remains trapped between speeches and action, even though we have the most complex winter season in decades ad portas.
It’s not anymore about face masks or how many ventilators we have; it is about public health overcoming Covid-19. Qualifications for doctors or telework policies should be advanced with the same haste with which Espacio Riesco was rented for millions of pesos to install an ad hoc hospital which could have been free to the public purse had the government used emergency powers.
Healthcare demands are citizens’ priorities that have slumbered between the corridors of government palace La Moneda and Congress. May the pandemic teach authorities that with will reforms are possible.
Translated by Christian Scheinpflug
Felipe Vergara (@felipevergaram) is a communications expert and has a regular column at Emol news portal. Apart from discussing current events on his radio show, he also teaches at Universidad Andrés Bello.