By RICARDO CASTILLO
A year ago at this time, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) declared a full-fledged frontal war on fuel thieves, nicknamed “huachicoleros.”
In just a few months, the hordes of fuel duct-spiking gangs were deprived of gasoline as the lines were dried out, and by March, AMLO announced the huachicol had been stopped by as much as 95 percent.
This year, the president has declared war on “white collar huachicoleros” belonging to the pharmaceuticals industry “mafia,” who have been profiteering, monopolizing production and distribution to government-run hospitals for years, and on the directors of hospitals themselves, who AMLO has said “are in cahoots” with the manufacturers.
In the nearly 14 months that AMLO has been in office, he’s been planning to solve the medical problems affecting the government’s public health system.
Many pharmaceutical labs have been accused of creating fake shortages of different medications and products, while increasing their bulk price in sales to the government.
On Sunday, Jan. 26, while referring to the ongoing war with the drug producers, AMLO launched yet another verbal attack at the main drug laboratories that supply the government in a speech he gave in Monterrey, Nuevo León.
“Those who controlled the distribution of medicines (to the government) do not want to stop stealing,” he said, “but now they have to get used to a new reality. The new public health system will work well in its totality because when there is political will, everything is possible.”
This is a “threat” that he has been making repeatedly to all those he claims are involved in “medical huachicol” theft from within the administration, but always yielding huge profits to the labs.
AMLO said that investigations have shown that “they stole – and this is highly indignant – even the money for medicines that had to be used to cure the sick.”
”They are ambitious and unscrupulous people,” AMLO said.
”They thought the same thing was going to go on and they try to arm wrestle with us, to blackmail the government, claiming there would be no drugs. They are still singing the same tune, saying that there’s going to be no medicine for children with cancer. But, of course, there is.”
Actually, the medicine shortages problem broke out a couple of weeks ago in top Mexico City hospitals as parents with children under treatment for cancer – mostly leukemia – took to the streets, first closing down intense traffic on North Insurgentes Avenue, in front of the hospital compex known as La Raza
Another group of parents on Wednesday, Jan. 22, whose children were treated at the Mexico Children’s Hospital at the near downtown Medical Center burst into the International Airport with the intent of lying down on the landing field and takeoff strips to shut them down.
Of course, they were not allowed to go that far, but, no doubt, they were highly frustrated persons.
The parents were directly attacking the director of the Mexico Children’s Hospital, Jaime Nieto, who was withholding service from them and even hinted that he wanted to charge for chemotherapy services, which by law, are for free for those under cancer treatment.
An investigation ensued with Health Secretary Jorge Alcoser Varela personally visiting the controversial but otherwise medically well-reputed Children’s Hospital.
The protesting parents were complaining about the absence of a key drug used in leukemia chemotherapy — vincristine, to be specific — at the Children’s Hospital (part of the Mexican Social Security Institute network).
Finally, on Saturday, Jan. 25, the Children’s Hospital issued a statement that since Wednesday the lack of drugs for chemotherapy had been resolved “100 percent” and said that the Coordination Commission of National Health Institutes and Highly Specialized Hospitals had given green light to extend the supply program with Products Hospitalities, a distribution branch for cancer pharmaceutical manufacturer Pisa, meaning Products Inntile Societal Anonym.
Pisa stands accused of having cornered the official government market for children’s cancer drugs.
The hospital, in its press release, accused Pisa of “not complying with the delivery of chemotherapy products’l lacking the vincristine “which we finally received on Jan. 22.”
The problem now is whether this is actually the end of all the trouble.
Pisa is just one of the hundreds of suppliers of expensive drugs that the Mexican health system supplies for free.
Most likely, this is not the last time we will hear about health-related shortages because the government has taken over the former Popular Security hospitals after discovering huge contracts between pharmaceutical labs and purchasing managers, allegedly over-priced and “corrupt.”
Service, incidentally, has not been suspended at Popular Security hospitals, but they are on a campaign of the re-registration of users.
In a more soothing message to pharmaceutical industries, AMLO said recently that he sees nothing wrong with them earning “a moderate profit” in supplying government hospitals.
But he added, “just don’t steal from us.”