Cuban Doctors Won’t Fix Mexico’s Aching Public Health System

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MORELIA, Michoacán — The demand for quality medical services in Mexico increased three years ago to unprecedented levels triggered by the recent covid-19 pandemic, revealing the enormous deficiencies and limitations of the country’s public health systems to guarantee an appropriate medical care for the population.

In Mexico, this situation was already visible during the administration of former president Enrique Peña Nieto in 2017. However, it wasn’t until 2021 that this issue within the national public health sector reached record levels as 22 million prescriptions could not be filled that year, exposing the inability of government health authorities to meet the demand of the country’s ailing citizens.

The regions of the country where the highest incidence of shortages of medical services and medicines have been observed are those located in rural areas and with high degrees of marginalization, such as the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz, Nayarit, the State of Mexico and Michoacán. The foregoing has resulted in the exacerbation of chronic illnesses and numerous diseases of patients residing in these states, most of which could have been prevented had appropriate medical care been available.

Faced with this widespread and prevalent healthcare crisis in a large part of the country, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has recognized that Mexico’s public healthcare system is struggling due to constant shortages of medicines as well as healthcare staffing shortages, with a deficit of 50,000 doctors.

To cover this need, he arranged the hiring of Cuban doctors, who had already been brought to work in Mexico during the pandemic. This decision generated great controversy among the Mexican medical workers since it is reported that there are almost 110,000 unemployed Mexican doctors who were not considered to fill this gap in the public healthcare system.

López Obrador justified his decision to bring doctors from abroad due the shortage of medical specialists in Mexico, but also claimed that local doctors often refuse to relocate to rural areas where their services are required, leaving millions of Mexicans with limited or zero access to basic healthcare.

So far, a total of 610 Cuban doctors have arrived in Mexico temporary employed by the Mexican government, according to what was reported by the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS). These doctors have been assigned to work in the states of Nayarit, Colima, Oaxaca, Sonora, Campeche, Baja California Sur, Guerrero, Michoacán, Veracruz, Morelos and Zacatecas.

But the introduction of these Cuban doctors has led to considerable controversy.

Not only has their training and professional qualifications come into doubt, but under Mexican law, only physicians licensed and duly accredited in Mexico are allowed to practice here. To become licensed, the Cuban doctors would have to pass the same medical exams as their Mexican counterparts, exams that are administered just twice a year under vigorous supervision by the Public Education Secretariat.

Moreover, many Mexican physicians are furious about the fact that the Mexican government has granted special privileges to the Cuban doctors, including salaries that are almost 200 percent higher than those paid to Mexican doctors with comparable experience and studies.

Additionally, the IMSS offers a generous “hospitality package” to the Cuban professionals that includes free housing and complementary meal plans.


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