Liberation Road

Disasters Waiting to Happen, Happen

The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project

April 14, 2021/ This week’s issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

In the 1980s, I worked at Boston City Hospital, the city’s only public hospital. I remember the time an elderly uninsured gentleman arrived at our emergency room in a taxi. A private hospital less than a mile away had sent him over, with a note pinned to his chest: “Pneumonia; multiple diagnoses.”

For this man, giving him taxi and not just bus fare would be the most the private hospital would do for him. Boston City Hospital, by contrast, would help whether he had money or not. But BCH itself was running on life support and finally closed in the 1990s, as did almost every other US public hospital, victims of neoliberal policies based on the idea that “markets always do better than the government.” The result? Poor and rural people, the uninsured, and the chronically ill found themselves with no place to go for medical help.

That outcome should have surprised no one. Neoliberals, as their champion Grover Norquist once put it, were consciously aiming to shrink government down to a size small enough to “drown in a bathtub.” That meant starving public health budgets, paving the way for disasters to happen. Public health initiatives, after all, have always been the key to population health advances, on everything from clean water to eradicating polio.  

Neoliberalism has, over the last 40 years, been the biggest US export to México and plenty of other nations. This has left México, like the US, ill-equipped to handle Covid. Commentators have been quick to blame México’s death toll on AMLO, but let’s remember, as Jésus Hermosillo reminds us in this week’s issue, that our corporate-dominated media would rather we ignore the health disaster neoliberals left just waiting to happen.

AMLO and Morena, adds our interview this week with Dr. Irma de la Cruz, understand that an impersonal “market” cannot provide adequate “care.” They’re working to pull government out of the bathtub. In the US, we have much to emulate from México’s response to health care privatization. May we all be ready before the next disaster strikes.

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 didn’t want to be a capitalist doctor out to make a profit from other people’s misfortunes.

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