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Healthcare, Public Health, and COVID

from the April 14, 2021 Bulletin

Morena AMLO governance Zapatistas COVID-19 healthcare

Dr. Irma De La Cruz practices medicine at the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social in México City and teaches public health at UNAM, the National Autonomous University. Her concern for the health of the poor, rural and urban, has helped drive her years of political activism, from deep inside Chiapas to the heart of México City.

 

You grew up in a poor working-class family in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, and against the odds became a doctor. What path did you take?

 

From growing up in poor conditions, I knew that people needed public health more than anything else. They needed measures to prevent illness more than treatments for people already sick. Treatment remains essential as well, of course, especially for those who suffer from the disease of poverty. But my family sacrificed to help me become a doctor, and I didnt want to be a capitalist doctor out to make a profit from other people’s misfortunes.

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What has made handling the Covid health crisis so difficult?

 

Neoliberal polices enacted by former PRI presidents made a mess. Medicine became a business, not a human right. Everything was privatized. For example, before the 1980s, México produced its own vaccines. But the privatization of our labs — giveaways of public resources, often to foreign interests — has meant that now, with Covid, we must pay for what we used to make ourselves. Its scandalous! Families of hospitalized people used to be provided free places to stay nearby. Now families don’t just have to pay for lodging. They even have to pay a fee to take a bath!

 

Those new hospitals the government was supposedly building? Those projects turned out to be more about helping contractors make money off government funds. Most of the hospitals went unfinished. And public medical schools were closed, driving up the cost of medical care. You need public resources to handle a crisis that affects the entire public.

 

You worked for years in the autonomous Zapatista territory, where people wanted nothing to do with neoliberal “reforms.” What kind of health care takes place there?

 

I mentioned the importance of public health. In Chiapas, some of us health providers formed volunteer collectives to carry out public health campaigns. We did vaccinations, health education, and ensured the well-being of pregnant women and mothers. I’m still in constant touch with that collective continuing to work in the autonomous Zapatista region. The Zapatistas also have their own autonomous hospital.

 

The Zapatistas dont want and dont get services from officials in México. Are they getting the Covid vaccine? No, but because they have closed off their area, they have stayed practically Covid-free.

 

AMLO has received lots of criticism for his response to the pandemic. What has he done with health care?

 

In a few short years, AMLO has reversed the privatization trend. Those unfinished hospitals? He has completed them. Medical schools now emphasize prevention, and tuition is subsidized. New specialty clinics have opened. The government has not used repression or force on mask wearing and distancing. In general, people are cooperating.

 

You remain dedicated to the Zapatistas, but you also support AMLO and are running on the Morena ticket for a seat on the Cuahutemóc municipality council in the center of México City. Why?

 

Under PRI/PAN, we had chaos. Health care became a disaster area. Morena policies are now improving the health of the public by providing more economic support, restoring public services, and expanding access to health services. As someone concerned with health my entire life, I want to be part of this movement for transformational change.

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Late last month, at the Olímpico Universitario Stadium in México City, an older woman registers to receive her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

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