SANTIAGO – It has been nearly two weeks since Enrique Paris replaced Jaime Mañalich as Minister of Health. A pediatrician, Dr. Paris has been thrust into the spotlight to handle the Covid-19 pandemic. Who is the man that needs to lead Chile through one of the worst health crises in history?
Dr. Enrique Paris assumed the role of the Ministry of Health after the former minister, Dr. Jaime Mañalich, resigned amid criticism over inconsistencies in the daily Covid-19 reports. The new minister, in charge nearly two weeks now, must attempt to reign in the pandemic with an ever-increasing number of daily cases and a stressed public health system.
Dr. Paris, a lifelong doctor, has studied in numerous universities around the world and has specialized in pediatrics and toxicology. Between 2011 and 2017, he served as the President of the Medical College (the doctor syndicate that oversees the ethical practice of medicine in Chile).
Studies of Dr. Enrique Paris
Paris was born on Sept. 3, 1948 in Puerto Montt. He studied medicine at the Catholic University in Santiago, where he later graduated as a surgeon. Between 1975 and 1979, he worked as a general doctor in the Achao Hospital in Chiloé, followed by a stint as the director of the Curaco de Vélez Medical Center. He later returned to the Achao Hospital but as a director.
During this time, he also worked as chief of the children’s medical program, a career choice that led him to a residency at the Dr. Luis Calvo Mackenna Hospital, which allowed him to study pediatrics in the University of Chile. He then furthered his studies through a scholarship regarding pediatric intensive care at the University of Louvain, located in Belgium. He has two specializations, one in toxicology from the National Capital Poison Center in Georgetown University, and the other in cardiac postoperative intensive care from the University of Michigan.
Dr. Paris has had a distinguished career as an academic and as a medical professional. He founded the Drug and Toxicological Information Center of the Medical School of the Catholic University and served as its director. He also worked as the head of the intensive care unit in the Sótero del Río Hospital and later became Chief of Pediatrics for the Catholic University.
More recently, he has focused on academics, as the director of Graduate studies at the Medical School of the Finis Terrae University. In 2018, he was named dean of the Science faculty at the Mayor University. He was also president of the Medical College from 2011 to 2017, during which he advised then-President Michelle Bachelet and her Minister of Health Álvaro Erazo.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Paris was present during the government’s Covid-19 meetings. In an interview in 2018 with Radio Duna, he expressed his interest in being Minister of Health. “Honestly, I would like to be Ministered of Health,” he said “I believe that it is the end goal of many doctors.” On June 13, 2020, Dr. Paris got his wish when President Sebastián Piñera tapped him to replace Mañalich amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Not Afraid to Speak – or Change – His Mind
Dr. Paris is not shy about his positions. Before being named as the new Minister of Health, Dr. Paris clashed with his successor to the Medical College presidency, Dr. Izkia Siches, regarding her criticisms of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. During an interview with Tele 13, he claimed that there was a strategy by the Medical College to tear down Piñera over his handling of the pandemic.
He also dismissed the implication that she represented all physicians: “She says that she represents all doctors in Chile but that is not true,” adding that “there is a lot of disagreement with her words. This is not the time to attack the health authority in this way, least of all the President of the Republic.” At the end of the interview, however, Dr. Paris said, “I exaggerated a little,” in relation to what he had said earlier in the interview.
In 2014, Dr. Enrique Paris also actively pushed for the banning of thimerosal in vaccines. He clashed with then-Minister of Health Mañalich over the vaccines: Mañalich assured that the thimerosal was harmless, but Dr. Paris insisted it could be harmful. Weeks later, Dr. Paris announced that he had changed his opinion on the vaccines.
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.