BUENOS AIRES – Victoria is just 2 weeks old and has already lost a foot due to a medical error caused by lack of resources, a case that has exposed the deep deterioration of public health care in Argentina.
The baby was born after seven months of gestation on April 5 at a hospital in the southern impoverished province of La Pampa that did not have appropriate equipment to care for a premature baby.
To keep Victoria warm, doctors placed a heater in her crib that caused severe burns on her leg, leading to the amputation of a foot.
Hospital director Marcelo Guemes called the case a “terrible mistake” and blamed it on the precarious conditions in which doctors work at the facility.
Victoria’s case, however, is just the most recent in a long series of incidents.
President Cristina Fernandez experienced the health-care system’s deficiencies firsthand in December, when she broke an ankle during a visit to the southern city of Rio Gallegos and had to be taken to Buenos Aires for treatment because the MRI machine at the local hospital had been out of service for months.
Last week, the government took an unusual step, assuming control of Posadas Hospital, one of the largest public health centers in Buenos Aires province, the most populous region in Argentina.
“The level of investment in that hospital does not correspond to the quality of service provided there,” Cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez said.
Lack of resources, equipment and staff, and facilities’ poor condition are common complaints among users of the Argentine public health system, which serves about 14 million people, or around 35 percent of the population, with most patients living on low incomes.
The health-care crisis is rooted in budget constraints, poor management and the system’s fragmentation across 23 provinces, Ruben Torres, president of Isalud University and a former Pan American Health Organization official, told Efe.
Argentina has one of the region’s highest ratios of doctors per inhabitants and spends roughly 9 percent of the gross domestic product on health care, but only 3 percent of GDP goes for the public health-care system.
“Of total investment in health care, public hospitals receive 2.09 percent of GDP,” Torres said. “It is a relatively low investment from the point of view of public policy.”
The underfunded public health system handles 90 percent of medical emergencies and is the provider most affected by patients who are victims of violence.