Photo: Criterio

By MARK LORENZANA

Zoé Robledo, director of Mexico’s Social Security Institute (IMSS), said on the morning of Tuesday, July 19, at Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) daily press conference, that of more than 14,000 vacancies that were intended to be filled under the government’s medical specialist recruitment program, only 2,621 doctors had been hired in the country.

And in response to the resounding failure of his plan to “recruit” much-needed specialists to work in underserviced rural areas of the country, López Obrador blamed the debacle on a global shortage of trained physicians.

In May of this year, Robledo announced an open call for the government to recruit and hire medical specialists across the country, but after two months, there have been few takers. A large percentage of the 2,621 doctors hired so far are from large urban centers in Mexico.

Robledo said that the number of specialists hired constitutes only 18 percent of the positions that are required throughout Mexico — especially in the targeted rural areas — so in an effort to ramp up the hiring of the remaining 82 percent, starting on Thursday, July 21, another open call for recruitment will be officially announced, and that those who are interested can send in their applications.

López Obrador said that the shortage of medical specialists in the country is “a consequence of abandonment of medical training during the neoliberal period in Mexico.”

“We are left without doctors. During the entire neoliberal period, doctors were not trained. We have a deficit of general practitioners, specialist doctors,” López Obrador said in an effort to justify his failed public health system, which has left millions of Mexicans without essential medications (including cancer treatment drugs for children) and basic care.

“Now we have vacancies, but there are no doctors, a terrible blow to public health.”

When he took office in December 2018, López Obrador immediately began to dismantle Mexico’s public heath system, including the safety net Seguro Popular program that provided medical assistance to the nation’s most vulnerable and unprotected segments.

He also cancelled all existing contracts for medications from major pharmaceutical companies, claiming that they were taking advantage of the country, leading to a shortage of nearly 80 percent of the most essential drugs.

At the start of the covid-19 pandemic, AMLO accused all doctors — including those who were serving as front-line workers — of being mercenaries and publicly stated that he did not trust Mexican physicians, only their Cuban counterparts.

Earlier this year, after a whirlwind visit to Havana, López Obrador announced a plan to hire 500 Cuban doctors to be deployed in rural areas of the country, which was met with immediate disapproval by the medical community in Mexico.

Moreover, under Mexican law, only physicians who have passed Mexico’s medical competency examination are allowed to practice in the country. None of the Cuban doctors in question had met that requirement.

AMLO also said that because of the “neoliberal model” of education, not just in Mexico, but also throughout the globe — including Spain, Argentina, Chile, the United States and countries in Europe — there is a worldwide shortage of qualified physicians, adding once again that the only doctors he would trust are the ones trained in Cuba, or possibly Brazil.

One Mexican physician, who asked not to be identified, sat down with Pulse News Mexico and said that she believes there’s not enough money being allocated by the government to specialty programs, and that is the biggest reason why there are not enough medical specialists.

“There is not enough funding from the government to allow specialists to be trained, and not that many people pass the ENARM (the annual Medical Residency National Exam in Mexico). You end up with a lot of general practitioners and not so many specialists,” she said.

“The other problem is that, realistically, unless you are in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey or maybe Mérida, Cancun or Puerto Vallarta — which are starting to become tourist hubs — there’s no money in being a specialist. So realistically, it doesn’t behoove you to be a specialist in Chihuahua, for example, because you are not going to get the volume of cases that you need or the income.”

The Mexican doctor also said that she doesn’t believe the hiring of physicians from Cuba is the solution to the dearth of medical specialists in the country, and added that the López Obrador  government should instead “invest in our own doctors first and our own educated physicians. who receive training here in Mexico.”

“You are leveraging physicians from another country because they are willing to work for less than Mexican doctors,” she said. “How about you just raise wages, and you actually have people who know the healthcare system, and know the people they are working with?”

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