More MS news articles for May 2002

Argentina's political crisis threatens healthcare

2002-05-22 15:32:08 -0400 (Reuters Health)
By Matias A. Loewy

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters Health) - The devaluation of the peso in Argentina will cut by almost two-thirds the country's annual healthcare expenditure, putting patients at risk of receiving "the kind of medicine practised 20 or 30 years ago," health providers warned here.

Since January, the peso has lost 70% of its value against the dollar after a decade of one-to-one parity. Dr. Marcelo Kaufman, president of an association of medical diagnosis centers, said that 50% to 70% of the total cost of medical supplies depends on the value of the dollar.

"The hike in the prices of imported supplies (after the devaluation) makes it almost impossible to keep on operating," Kaufman told the journal Consultor de Salud.

Last week, Argentina's Congress decided to eliminate import taxes on several medical supplies considered to be "critical for health." The list includes pacemakers, cardiac valves, syringes and latex gloves. As a result of the law, their prices are expected to fall by about 30%.

But some experts remain skeptical. Dr. Jorge Manfredi, president of Femicon, a federation of doctors in Buenos Aires, predicts that many modern diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, such as computed tomography (CT) scanning, will be far too expensive to be performed regularly.

"Unless there is a substantial change within the next months, patients and medical insurance firms will not be able to pay for high-complexity medicine," Manfredi told Reuters Health. "We seem to be going 20 or 30 years back."

The price of medications sold in pharmacies has increased 40%, on average, since January. Some drugs, such as the cancer drug paclitaxel, were offered for sale to hospitals and large health centers at prices up to 10 times higher than they were last year.

Manufacturers and wholesalers put the blame on "financial uncertainties" and the rising cost of imported components, including glass vials and the active ingredients of drugs. Many hospitals in Buenos Aires were forced to manufacture their own tablets and to begin sterilization of basics such as old glass syringes and endotracheal tubes.

Medical care of approximately 17,000 Argentineans with chronic kidney disease was on the verge of collapse because of the increasing costs of supplies for dialysis, according to a statement from the Argentine Society of Nephrology. AIDS and transplant patients are also considered at risk because of their need for long-term drug treatment.

In addition, health authorities have announced that newly diagnosed patients with multiple sclerosis, growth failure or cystic fibrosis would no longer receive 100% coverage for their pharmaceutical expenditures.

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