This South American country is considered one of the most liberal in Latin America, what with a female President and legalised same-sex marriage in a predominantly Roman Catholic country.
The largest Spanish-speaking country, it is renowned for its beef, wines and football. But, on the darker side, according to the Human Rights Watch, women and girls suffer needlessly in Argentina because of negligent and abusive reproductive health care. Argentina has the highest abortion rate in the world – a shocking 40%, double the average for any othe Latin American country.
Because abortion is banned (not surprising in this Roman Catholic country), illegal abortions are widespread. Legal abortions are allowed only if the mother’s health is medically at risk or when it is the result of rape, but even then there are several bureaucratic obstacles. As such, unsafe abortions form the leading cause of maternal mortality in Argentina.
The irony of it is that the Argentine President was a strong advocate of human rights when she came into power – and yet, enforcement of womens’ reproductive rights have fallen to an all-time low. Well, the women are not taking it sitting down – female activists are now campaigning for legalised abortion and this looks imminent, after the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
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You might argue that Robert Mugabe has used verbal diarrhoea to barricade his political position as the long-standing self-proclaimed President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, but his sequencial statements that there is no cholera outbreak (Nov 2008) followed by his statement that it is now controlled (11 Dec 2008 here) and lately his accusation that Western powers were using cholera as a biological weapon to launch “a calculated, racist, terrorist attack on Zimbabwe”, smacks of a strong sense of denial.
Denial…that 60,000 are suffering from cholera and 600 have died, with many more to come. Why cholera? In essence, the organism that causes cholera, Vibrio cholerae, is just one of the many micro-organisms which cause food-poisoning. However, the effects on an individual are devastating because this bacteria produces a deadly poison, an enterotoxin, that within 1 day of swallowing contaminated water, will cause extensive damage of the lining of the intestines which in turn leads to large volumes of watery diarrhoea leading to extreme dehydration and death.
Beyond all that, cholera existing in any country reflects on the low socio-economic status of that country; where insufficient healthcare resources are present, where there is a breakdown of adequate sewage and water facilities and where there is political instability.
Essentially a disease spread by the fecal-oral route, this is a polite way of saying that infection-laden stool from one person finds its way into the mouth of another person. This can occur indirectly when there is contamination of drinking water by sewage, as in Zimbabwe. While awaiting medications, people there would do well to boil drinking water and practise handwashing, both being cost-effective and efficient ways of preventing spread of disease.
Judging from recent news reports, quite a number of US hospitals are resorting to deporting patients who have been stabilised but have nowhere to go. This applies particularly to illegal immigrants who are uninsured and unable to financially support themselves.
To highlight an example, the New York Times recently reported of a 35 year-old Guatemalan patient who came to the US illegally and was knocked down by a car 8 years ago in Florida. A community hospital saved his life, twice, and, after failing to find a rehabilitation center willing to accept an uninsured patient, kept him in the ward for years at a cost of US$1.5 million. During a prolonged legal battle, the hospital decided on its own to charter an air ambulance and fly the patient back to Guatemala, wheelchair and all, on the basis that this would be less expensive in the long run. Not so fortunate is, another patient, a 30 year old Mexican who is being deported by a hospital while in coma. Read about it here.
This case exposes a little-known but apparently widespread practice. Many American hospitals are taking it upon themselves to repatriate seriously injured or ill immigrants because they cannot find nursing homes willing to accept them without insurance. Medicaid covers emergency care (to some extent) but does not cover long-term care for illegal immigrants. However, hospitals are obligated by law to arrange for post-hospital care.
Still, human rights activists are understandably outraged –“there is something wrong with the system when the bottom line is more important than a human life”.
Hospital authorities counteract by saying – ” We are running a business. Someone has to pay for it at the end of the day. Besides, we have gone out of our way to send these patients back at our own expense. All of this is done legally – what about the felony charges against illegal aliens?”
My take on this is that the whole world is faced with limited resources especially in healthcare. Which is why in an earlier post (read here ), I predict that many countries will soon have to come to accept that :
..basic healthcare is a basic human right.
Met a disgruntled patient the other day..”why can’t the government take care of its citizens’ healthcare needs – after all, health is a basic human right!”
That set me thinking on quite a few fronts.
Is health a basic human right?
The WHO constitution states:“the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being…”
The problem of course for governments is whether it is financially viable to provide the best healthcare for each and every of its citizens. Things were not so bad three decades ago where perhaps the most expensive medical procedure would have been an open-heart bypass.
Today, we have organ transplants and, more costly in the long-term, repeated procedures like hemodialysis where you need to attend a center three times a week for the rest of your life, each time incurring a cost of about USD$200. Whatever the source of funding, its going to impose a tremendous strain on the budget. Personally, I do not know of any government which will pprovide a carte blanche for a patient to be given completely free dialysis treatment for the rest of his life.
So what do governments do? They could provide a partial subsidy or, in the case of a third-party payor (like insurance companies) only provide limited coverage.
As countries grapple with the ever-increasing healthcare costs, it wouldn’t be a surprise for more and more to adopt the maxim :
Basic healthcare is a basic human right!