Our Collapsed Health System

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Why do national public hospitals in Peru appear more like war zones rather than efficient and well-equipped healthcare facilities? A former health system employee shares his experience.

I remember back in the States friends would warn me about what a nightmare hospitals and general health care would be in Peru. As I’ve mentioned before, I worked in the health system in the US for many years, so I was well acquainted with the level of care provided to patients there. I was also involved in many other business ventures related to the medical field. A few years ago I was partner with a company providing medical equipment to Latin America and some European and Asian nations. Some of this equipment was new and a lot of them were refurbished or had become obsolete. The policy of many hospitals in the States is to renew equipment almost every year; in fact, there is a budget amount set up for just that. The idea is to keep up with technology and to have the latest state of the art equipment. More often than not the equipment being discarded or renewed is still in optimal condition. A lot of the hospitals donate these goods, others are sent to a warehouse for public auction. A lot of business people in the medical field see this as a great opportunity to buy at a low price what can eventually be resold outside the country.

So for a few years I came to Lima for business purposes, bringing medical equipment and all types of medical goods, from surgery beds to neonatal incubators, laparoscopic equipment, and respiratory equipment among others. I remember attending many medical conventions here in Lima where I witnessed many companies, some private and many governmental organizations, purchasing equipment. At the time I believed that the hospitals in my country were finally getting equipped like they should, that they would finally be able to deliver the proper medical care people deserved. I was wrong.

Many years ago I would visit my mother here in Peru. She is a cancer survivor and she was going through her chemotherapy at a hospital called Rebagliati. I decided to accompany her and I was shocked with what I saw. There were so many people lined up waiting for their turn to have their treatment, and my mother was one of them. I couldn’t help to notice the hopelessness in these patients’ eyes and faces. After a wait that felt like forever, she was finally called in. The nurse approached me to let me know that they had run out of the medication my mother needed for her chemo. I was in shock. Then the same nurse tells me that there might be another option, and tells me about this black market that sells the medication. She gives me an address and a phone number to call. Feeling hesitant, I decided to give it a shot. I found out that there was a huge black market for cancer patients. They charged me of course in dollars and I felt like I was doing a drug deal with the guy. A week after this experience I put my mother on a plane and took her back to the States where to this day she is being treated and taken care of. I kept wondering about the rest of those patients who had no means to pay for the overpriced meds from the black market.

Since returning to Peru to reside once again in Lima, I have had another encounter that blew me away. I had to rush a friend of mine to the nearest hospital due to an accident that left him with an exposed fracture. I don’t recall the name of the hospital we went to but when we got there it was like watching a war zone. There were people even outside the hospital on chairs, not even beds. The place was a chaos and I was dumbstruck by the scene. My friend was really nervous and in a lot of pain. A nurse came out and gave me a long list of things I needed to purchase. I wondered, What type of hospital is this? They don’t even have the most essential supplies such as gloves, tape or syringes. What happened to all of the equipment they purchased?

Well, now that I have seen the reality of it, it all makes sense. Only one word comes to mind: Corruption. Our health system has collapsed due to poor management from authorities from all levels. Not too long ago we all heard about the scandal of Dr. Carlos Moreno. It seems that all the equipment that’s been purchased just sits there without maintenance or supplies. The authorities gamble with people’s health to fatten their pockets. The conditions in which patients are being seen are incredibly unsafe, there is no set criteria for preventing infections. I also came to find out about the other face of the medical system, private clinics, which are extremely expensive but at least they won’t give you a long list of things to buy. Unfortunately, and as usual, the people who have less and have no financial means are the ones who directly suffer. While the relatively recent existence of health insurance companies is a start, if you happen to end up in a public hospital, you might as well count your blessings.

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Fernando Calle is a Peruvian-born, American citizen who has lived in the USA for over 25 years. He is a Cardiovascular Technologist and Sleep Disorder Specialist, having worked for Baptist Health Systems (Florida, USA) where he held the position as Chief Technologist of the Respiratory Disorders Department. After having worked for his own companies (Sleep Services of South Florida and Total Health Diagnostics, also in South Florida), he currently resides in Lima, Peru on a new quest as an English Teacher. Holds the ELT, FCE and ECPE (Cambridge-Michigan) international certificates. Also offers advanced English level courses for business, English Law, Technical English. Specialized in Medical English.