Bolivia: Free, universal health care system launched

Bolivian President Evo Morales launched the free Unified Health System (SUS) on March 1 to expand health coverage to people who previously lacked any form of health insurance.

The SUS inauguration ceremony was held in the Cochabamba district, where Morales visited a medical centre and delivered new equipment. In his speech, he said universal free health insurance was made possible by Bolivia’s economic model, in which state-owned companies provide financial resources for health services.

"Tell us where we have problems," President Morales said, calling for social participation to improve the SUS so as to assure its success.

Morales also visited the Sarcobamba Hospital to talk with specialists, verify the SUS start-up and communicate through Telesalud, Latin America’s health telecommunications platform, designed to improve access to specialised medical services in distant rural communities.

"We currently have 46 telemedicine centers connected through the Tupac Katari satellite and 294 centers connected by optical fibre," according to the Ministry of Health.

Fernando Leanes, the representative of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), attended the launch and described Bolivia's health-related policies as "extraordinary" and a model for Latin America.

"The results are extraordinary in public health and collective health. They can be seen in the reduction of infant mortality, child malnutrition, number of professionally-attended births, diseases under control and population's healthy life years," Leanes confirmed media reports that Bolivia has tripled its health budget since 2006.

The government will allocate about US$200 million in 2019 to guarantee the sustainability of the SUS by improving its equipment, supplies and infrastructure.

Health minister Gabriela Montaño announced that a mobile app will inform people about SUS health care centres and diseases. Authorities have estimated that the new health system will benefit about five million Bolivians between the ages of 5 and 59 who previously lacked free coverage.

In the 2014 presidential elections, then-candidate Morales promised to gradually create universal health insurance, which is expected to cover at least 70% of the Bolivian population.

According to WHO-PAHO data, Bolivia occupies first place in "shared prosperity" and is the Latin American country that most reduced extreme poverty.

"We know that not everything is perfect in the health area," Leanes said, but stressed that "there is no denying that Bolivia has free care in more than 3,100 first, second and third level health facilities," as Patria Nueva reported.

[Abridged from Telesur English.]