By MARK LORENZANA
Mexican Undersecretary of Public Health Hugo López-Gatell has a problem with medical clinics attached to pharmacies.
The clinics are a common sight throughout Mexico — and for good reason. They fill a need, especially for patients who want to see a doctor to help treat minor illnesses such as colds or diarrhea, or for a quick check-up. These medical offices attached to pharmacies are also affordable, and the waiting times are shorter than at public hospitals.
López-Gatell once said that clinics attached to pharmacies are “a hoax” and “a great deception” and that “they should not exist” because “they don’t really treat diseases.” He said that “the clinics’ sole purpose is to sell medicines, and not attend to health problems.”
There was backlash, naturally, from medical professionals in Mexico, with one Mexican physician saying, “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.”
The funny thing? López-Gatell has a problem with these licensed general practitioners, who must have a medical degree and at least six years of study and are legally allowed to prescribe drugs in these private clinics that he hates so much, but he doesn’t have a problem promoting “ancestral” medicine to the public, with the approval (and, perhaps, prodding), of course, of his boss, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) — who even devoted a significant chunk of his daily morning press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 6, to having the undersecretary of public health go on with his spiel on traditional medicine.
And so López-Gatell promoted midwifery in the country, saying that it is “part of the cultural and ancestral legacy of Mexico” and that “Mexico is one of the countries with the most unnecessary caesarian sections.” María Elena Álvarez-Buylla, head of Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) — see the irony here? — then piled on, and said that the neoliberals “despised ancient medicine and ancient knowledge,” and added that she was committed to “the recovery of traditional knowledge.” A video clip of traditional medicine that was described as “ancestral and is inherited from generation to generation” was then presented to the audience assembled at the National Palace.
In one section of the video, an indigenous shaman (with no formal medical training) explained that, unlike medical doctors, he had the capability to heal someone simply by looking at them.
It’s safe to say that we can likewise use López-Gatell’s disdainful quotes “a hoax,” “a great deception,” “they should not exist” and “they don’t really treat diseases” — which he originally used to describe private medical clinics attached to pharmacies — for this so-called ancestral medicine that the López Obrador administration is pushing to the Mexican public and which AMLO has decided to incorporate into the country’s National Social Security Institute’s (IMSS) hospitals nationwide.
This is not the first time, though, that AMLO has heaped praises on traditional medicine. In October 2021, he said, ”I am in favor of allowing conservation and promoting the use of traditional medicine because it is a tradition, and it is effective. I have seen how traditional healers cure those who are bitten by snakes.”
In July of this year, López Obrador said, “All kinds of medicines, treatments and health measures must be applied, even traditional medicine.” In the same press conference, Mexican Public Health Secretary Jorge Alcocer — again, the irony — affirmed AMLO’s apparent fondness for traditional medicine, and said that a plant was once used to make tea “to cure heart failure.”
One of the main arguments of those defending traditional medicine is that natural remedies have been used for millions of years by ancient civilizations. Critics, for their part, point out that using traditional methods was the only recourse that ancient civilizations had back then, and everything changed — for the better — with the advent of modern medicine and the development and professionalization of the pharmaceutical industry.
Perhaps therein lies the problem: The pharmaceutical industry is being run by “evil neoliberalists,” according to AMLO. The answer? Going back in time to forage for leaves to use as tea to cure heart failure.
Let’s call a spade a spade: Traditional medicine is considered by many experts in various medical fields as pseudoscience, as there is no scientific evidence of its effectiveness.
True, many modern medications have their roots in traditional medicine practices, but the majority of traditional cures simply don’t work. They are nothing more than snake oil.
Bottom line: It’s safe to say that majority of Mexicans would rather trek to private clinics adjacent to pharmacies to have themselves checked by licensed doctors — despite López-Gatell’s chagrin — than take their chances with the ancient remedies that AMLO seems to be enamored with at the moment.