Honduras Healthcare System Collapsing

Some 670 doctors remain on strike in Honduras because the Ministry of Health has not paid their salaries since January -- and in some cases as far back as 14 months.
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Some 670 doctors remain on strike in Honduras because the Ministry of Health has not paid their salaries since January -- and in some cases as far back as 14 months. They are also striking because the government has failed to adjust their salaries for inflation. In short, the Lobo administration owes the physicians Lps 71 million ($3.4 million) in back pay, but more accurately Lps 140 million ($6.7 million) if you account for inflation. The president of the Medical College of Honduras, Elmer Mayes, said that the strike is countrywide and is due to "the lack of salary payments". He stated that there will only be medical attention for emergency cases at all public hospitals, including those in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Choluteca, La Ceiba, Olanchito, Santa Rosa de Copán, and Comayagua.

Last week, dozens of doctors protested in front of the Presidential House in Tegucigalpa demanding back wages. "This government has not given any importance to healthcare, it has not taken the problems seriously," said Marcos Girón, a representative of the physicians. "[The government] has frozen salaries but the price of beans and corn and not even house rents have been frozen."

Minister of Health Salvador Pineda has been promising to make good on the salary payments for more than two months now. President Lobo finally chimed in last week and promised that the payment issue would soon be taken care of. This week, Minister Pineda said that the money is in the bank and has begun to be paid as of last Friday. The payments are for the months of July, August, and September. No mention, however, of payments for months prior.

This week, employees of the Mario Mendoza and Santa Rosita psychiatric hospitals in Tegucigalpa went on strike and began protesting because during the past year the government has not paid them for extra hours worked. Some 30 employees of the Mario Mendoza have not been paid at all for four months. Additionally, medical personnel at the San Felipe hospital in Tegucigalpa went onto the streets to protest the lack of medicines and supplies, as well as the lack of funds to pay for food for patients. "The protest is to get health authorities to provide medications to the [hospital]," said Elvin Cáceres, president of the employees' union at the San Felipe.

Further, this week, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff at the Mario Catarino Rivas and Leonardo Martínez hospitals in San Pedro Sula came out to demand payment of their salaries and the lack of medical supplies and medications. Many of them have not been paid for six months, and some as long as a year. "We are tired of saying that it's not only about the salary problem, but also a series of irregular situations that we have been protesting for months and which have made these hospitals totally inoperable, and as such it is of vital importance that the central authorities resolve this crisis," said Marcial Zúniga, president of the Medical Society of the Mario Catarino Rivas.

The Lobo administration's response? A commission. A month and a half before the next presidential election and less than four months before the end of his term in office, President Lobo has named a commission to deal with the overall crisis in the healthcare system -- a crisis that has existed since day one of his administration. The group -- Minister Pineda, Minister of Labor Jorge Bográn, and Vice-Minister of Finance Carlos Borjas -- will... talk.

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