Venezuela's popular health care system makes gains

"Venezuela's community health program Barrio Adentro made important strides yesterday with the graduation of the first group of Venezuelan doctors" trained in the Cuban-developed system of "general integral medicine" (GMI), according to an April 11 article on Venezuelanalysis.com.

Barrio Adentro, which began in 2003 after the government wrested control of the nominally state-owned oil industry from the corrupt elite, is one of Venezuela's most famous and successful social missions. The missions — government-funded programs that use Venezuela's oil wealth to attempt to solve the needs of the poor majority — form the backbone of the Bolivarian revolution being led by the government of President Hugo Chavez, which aims to create a "socialism of the 21st century".

Barrio Adentro provides free health care to the poor, many of whom were previously denied access, via a growing network of popular clinics and medical centres. The mission is currently staffed by more than 20,000 Cuban medical personnel, who volunteer in return for Venezuela providing Cuba with discounted oil. Chavez turned to Cuba, which has doctors volunteering in 69 countries (more than the World Health Organisation), after almost no Venezuelan doctors responded to calls from the government to volunteer their services in the country's impoverished neighbourhoods.

Many university-educated professionals such as doctors, who trained under the pro-neoliberal education system inherited by the Chavez government, have proven hostile to the aims of the revolution. As a result, the government has built a new tertiary education program via the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV). The UBV prioritises students from poor backgrounds traditionally excluded from universities and aims to create a new, revolutionary education system geared towards solving the needs of the poor. Those who train as doctors through the UBV do so with the explicit aim of working in Barrio Adentro, allowing the Cubans to be replaced by new doctors committed to the principles of social justice.

Venezuelanalysis.com reported that 1013 students graduated after a three-year course in the GMI model, which is based on the integration of doctors into local communities with an emphasis on preventative care. This model has helped Cuba develop one of the most advanced health-care systems in the world, with a lower infant mortality rate and higher number of doctors per head of population than the United States. Chavez told a graduation ceremony that the health-care system being created in Venezuela, with Cuba's assistance, "is one of the huge differences between neoliberal capitalist governments and a socialist government".

Venezuelanalysis.com reported on April 16 that Chavez, along with left-wing Bolivian President Evo Morales, inaugurated the Dr. Alejandro Prospero Reverend Latin American School of Medicine, which seeks to train doctors across the continent in the GMI model of health care. The school currently has 412 students from various Latin American countries and aims to double this number by October. In an interview published on Venezuelanalysis.com on November 27, the rector of the UBV, Andres Eloy Ruiz, explained that Venezuela aimed to train as many doctors as was feasible in order to replicate Cuba's example and provide free health care to the poor wherever needed around the world, arguing "a doctor is not in the service of a country, but of all humanity".

In a further attempt to ensure the Venezuelan heath system is geared towards solving people's needs rather than private profit, Associated Press reported on April 5 that Chavez warned his government would take control of private hospitals if they continued raising prices for care. Chavez said that if private hospitals "keep speculating, increasing prices, they would have to be regulated. Any private hospital that doesn't comply with regulations that are made, if necessary, would have to be nationalised."