Doctors Respond to Lopez-Gatell’s Criticism of Pharmacy Clinics

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Physicians in Mexico have rebuked Mexican Undersecretary of Public Health Hugo López-Gatell for his criticisms that medical offices attached to pharmacies are “a hoax” and “a great deception” and that “they should not exist” because “they don’t really treat diseases.”

López-Gatell, in his Health Pulse report at Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) daily press conference on the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 16, said that the clinics’ sole purpose is to sell medicines, and not attend to health problems.

In his official Twitter account, Xavier Tello, medical surgeon at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and an analyst in public health policies, wrote that López-Gatell unfairly attacked the clinics without understanding the context and magnitude of the issue and, worse, unscientifically accused them of increasing mortality during the covid-19 pandemic.

“You don’t have a single piece of scientific evidence to say that ‘they don’t really treat diseases.’ This is a very serious accusation coming from a health official,” Tello wrote.

For his part, Héctor Rossete, a surgeon from the Autonomous University of Tlaxcala, said that López-Gatell should be grateful to private medicine, which helped in patient care during the worst stages of the pandemic, due to Mexico’s public health sector being undermanned and overrun with covid-19 patients. Rossete also reminded authorities that more than 80 percent of health problems are resolved at the first level of care, with the help of general practitioners.

“It’s so easy to criticize the clinics attached to pharmacies, and say that they should not exist, but it would be better if the government actually offered better opportunities to general practitioners,” Rossete said. “General practitioners deserve to be valued, respected and well paid.”

Moreover, with the changes implemented under Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), which include eliminating the free Seguro Popular health insurance that covered the nation’s poorest citizens, and the refusal to purchase much-needed medications from pharmaceutical companies, leaving millions of Mexicans without the drugs they need to survive, many patients who would have previously been covered by public sector medicine now have no recourse but to seek private attention.

In fact, according to the government’s own statistics, state-run hospitals and clinics can now only meet the demand of 43 percent of Mexicans patients, which means that they are forced to turn to affordable private care.

Journalist Sergio Sarmiento, in an opinion piece for Mexican daily newspaper Reforma on Thursday, Aug. 18, wrote that Lopez-Gatell had also attacked past health officials for ideological reasons, especially former Secretary of Health Guillermo Soberón, who also served as rector of the UNAM, for allegedly having started “a process of dismantling public medicine to replace it with the private.”

“The amazing thing about these accusations by Lopez-Gatell is that Soberón and his successors built a reasonably effective public health system with enormous effort, despite the scarce resources they had, while López-Gatell has set out to destroy it,” Sarmiento wrote. “One of the most important reasons for the expansion of pharmacy clinics is the deterioration of public health institutions under the Fourth Transformation. López-Gatell has been the great privatizer of health in our country.”

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