The importance of improving public health in Latin America

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The COVID-19 pandemic made us realize the structural problems that Latin American public health has .

Empty hospital beds

The health system in Latin America has faced great challenges after the arrival of the coronavirus. / Photo: Unsplash

LatinAmerican Post | Ariel Cipolla

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Leer en español: La importancia de mejorar la salud pública en América Latina

The coronavirus health crisis requires the maximum possible efforts of the health system in Latin America. However, it is a structure that is historically weak. This is portrayed by The New York Times, saying that COVID-19 put public health systems on the brink of collapse, demonstrating their inefficiency and inequality.

At the same time, the right government actions could lead to an improvement in restructuring going forward. The Republic of Colombia highlights that, according to a World Bank report, the creation of public health policies could mean a key point in the recovery of Latin America.

This delicate situation leads the El País Public Agenda website to wonder if Latin American health systems are prepared for the coronavirus. Against this background, we decided to find out what the current situation is and what have been some of the clearest problems in recent times.

The problems of public health in Latin America

We are used to believing that Latin American public health is, to some extent, very inefficient. While free access to medicine is almost always guaranteed, the reality in terms of quality seems to be very different from what, at least in theory, medical institutions should be able to offer.

This is portrayed by the president of the Latin American Episcopal Council on the Vatican News website, who mentions that public health in Latin America is at “inhuman levels”. It is an almost logical situation: no one expected this pandemic to occur, so, from one moment to the next, governments had to re-equip themselves to face the contagions.

This results in an unexpected number of patients to attend to, even despite the time it took to re-equip the healthcare system. For example, as DW portrays, the health system in Argentina is "on the verge of collapse". 

However, that is not the only complaint. The country's essential personnel, that is, doctors, nurses, and others, also complain about a historical problem in their sector: low wages. For example, from Cadena3 they reported that the doctors in the province of Córdoba demanded a salary improvement.

Infobae portrays a similar situation in another country, saying that the doctors and health workers in Peru demanded salary increases and other economic demands. It is a labor sector that is in a critical situation in terms of working conditions since they are not only exposed to diseases but also receive low pay. 

Also read: The advancement of medicine in Latin America

Other Latin American countries are experiencing the same fate. From the BBC they comment that the government of Mexico defined the country's health system as a "disaster", since they found a devastating situation, having abandoned hospitals and dying people due to problems in health services.

This inefficient health system complements its problems, according to Clarín's perspective, with a deficit of 200 thousand doctors. In other words, unlike in the previous cases, here there was also a surprise for the country, which did not have enough professionals to face the virus, so the government had to start mass hirings.


Another of the most affected countries and leaders in infections in Latin America is Brazil, which has a “suffocated” health system, according to France24. The Brazilian territory is one of the hardest hit on a global scale by the spread of COVID-19, so the fragility of hospitals also generates a structural crisis.

This is why El Comercio emphasizes that pandemics "expose the deficiencies of public health in Brazil", which has chronic problems with social inequalities, low investments, and salaries for professionals. It is clear that this situation includes all Latin American territories, that we must rethink the role that this sector has for the future, conditioning it to prevent future diseases, and giving them the working conditions that these essential workers deserve.