An abridged version of an article for PSI by Igor Ojeda

A March 24 online meeting of PSI trade unions in the health sector in Latin America  [Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic and Venezuela], affirmed that there is a lack of medical supplies and personal protective equipment for doctors, nurses, technicians and administrative staff.  Some workers who denounce this situation are being persecuted.

In addition, they shared cases of discrimination in the distribution of the existing equipment, with doctors being prioritized to the detriment of other professionals.

Union leaders who participated in the meeting also condemned the manner in which many Latin American governments are clearly prioritizing profits over people, that is, they are slow to determine strong measures of physical distancing to preserve the interests of the large economic and financial sectors.

PSI Regional Secretary for Interamerica, Jocelio Drummond said that PSI would not accept the persecution of leaders or organizations that denounce the precarious working conditions of health workers or the “professional discrimination” in the distribution of personal protective equipment that is occurring.

PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli reported that, “no one expected a situation like the one we are experiencing in Europe today,” and said she expected a very severe economic crisis that would last at least two or three years.

Pavanelli called attention to the “very critical” situation of health professionals: “In Italy and Spain, where we have the most serious crisis, 10% of confirmed cases are health workers, nurses and doctors. More than 24 doctors in Italy have died; in France at least two doctors have died of coronavirus. The working conditions are very hard, not only because of the number of patients, the intensity of the work and the complexity of treating patients with Covid, but also because the basic equipment is missing: masks, gloves, personal protective equipment, as well as respirators and ventilators”.

In order to deal with this shortage, almost all Western European governments have forced private companies to convert their production to health equipment. “The lack of these products is general, and is essentially due to the fact that almost none of the European countries have maintained production at the national level in recent years,” explained Rosa Pavanelli, who also commented on the measures taken by the continent’s governments to force private hospitals to treat patients with Covid-19. Particularly those that have requisitioned private hospitals to deal with the pandemic.

Across Latin America health unions expressed common concerns:

In CHILE, Carolina Espinoza, of trade union federation CONFUSAM reported: “We are demanding that a national quarantine be decreed as a matter of urgency, yet the government continues to put the interests of the economy above health. Even the mayors have stepped forward, closing schools and businesses. We feel abandoned because the health authorities have decided to defend companies and production at the expense of the exponential growth of the contagion curve.”

In BRAZIL, Edvaldo Pitanga, of CONDSEF said“The Brazilian Hospital Services Company refuses to test its staff for COVID-19 and to report positive or suspected cases. In the states of Sergipe and Piauí, professionals suspected of being infected are being directed to go home instead of being admitted to hospital. In addition, there is a lack of staff training to deal with this moment” 

From ARGENTINA, Santiago Piccone, UPCN, reported a rather different situation: “The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) is in permanent contact with the Ministry of Labour. The government has determined a salary increase of about $400 for health workers and is taking measures related to the social economy. A subsidy has been provided for the purchase of health equipment and supplies for the entire country. We have received in Covid-19 diagnostic testing assistance from China.”

However in COLOMBIA according to Gerardo Herrera “The government has taken economic measures to protect the financial sector, it has appropriated resources from the territories in an arbitrary manner for this purpose, under the excuse that loans will be made to companies to protect jobs. Hospitals have not received resources. We are working without protective equipment” –

Rodrigo López García, ANPE  was also concerned about the situation in COSTA RICA: “We’re fighting to receive more supplies. Our nursing teams and doctors have been contaminated. They have had to be quarantined. We don’t want applause, we want recognition. No one has ever been interested in the biosecurity of health workers before. If the health worker is missing, if he or she is not protected, the health of the world stops, the world stops” –

In ECUADOR according to Iván Bastidas, CONASEP/ASPAE: “Many comrades are being threatened for denouncing that they do not have protective equipment…. Here, priority is given to the payment of foreign debt and no resources are allocated to health”

Mirna Gallardo, APE reported on PARAGUAY: “We have protective equipment, but it’s rationed. The government has introduced a package of measures to tackle this situation, including a wage increase for health workers over the past few months. Three months of non-payment of electricity and water services are also foreseen. … Economic food support has been approved for 1.5 million families” 

In GUATEMALA, Orciny Lemus, SNTSG reported: ““We have no protective equipment. We are demanding minimum equipment and job stability from the president for the rest of the year by means of public communications and open letters. Budgetary be changes must be made as we will have a lot of casualties in the health sector”

In PERU, according to – Wilfredo Ponce, FED-CUT-ESSALUD “There is a lack of equipment, despite the fact that nine tons of such equipment has recently entered the country.”

And in Honduras, Miguel Ángel Mejía, SITRAMEDHYS reports: “Three years ago the government dismantled the public health system, so we are not prepared to deal with a pandemic like this, which has taken lives in countries with stronger health systems.”

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