CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The oppressive policies of military rule in Chile have devastated health care in that South American country, two Harvard Medical School physicians said.
'The right of decent medical care has been stripped from the Chilean people,' Dr. Robert Lawrence said Monday. 'The deterioration of health care in Chile has been devestating.'
Lawrence and Dr. Carola Eisenberg returned Sunday from a four-day Chilean fact-finding mission. They presented their findings at a Harvard University news conference.
The two doctors were sent to Chile by the Physicians for Human Rights. The group is part of the American Committee for Human Rights, which is based in Somerville.
While in Chile, Lawrence and Eisenberg said they met with two jailed physicians who have been at the forefront of human rights advocacy in Chile, a country besieged by economic hardship and alleged government-imposed human rights abuses.
'Chile had an outstanding medical system, but any (remainder) of that has deteriorated,' Lawrence said of his observations and studies.
Lawrence said the government of President Augusto Pinochet has 'dramatically' cut money from the budget of Chile's public hospital system, once the primary form of medical care for country's 11 million people.
More than 50 percent of the country's budget now goes to the military, said Eisenberg.
Budget cuts have resulted in hospital overcrowding and a lack of necessary medica equipment and supplies, the doctors said, with the decline in public facilities shifting quality medical care to the expensive private sector.
In addition to budget and economic woes -- 50 percent unemployment - Lawrence said recent alleged government human rights abuses toward the medical community have left doctors fearful of doing their job.
Following interviews with Drs. Juan Luis Gonzalez and Francisco Rivas in Capuchinos Prison in Santiago, Lawrence said there is a 'sense that doctors in Chile do not feel secure in their professional work or personal lives.'
Both Rivas and Gonzalez were jailed after their organization, the National Civil Assembly, participated in a national work stoppage last month aimed at protesting national human rights abuses.
Another human rights case being pursued by the two Harvard doctors has drawn local attention.
A Chilean woman allegedly burned by military police last month during an anti-government protest may come to Boston for further medical attention, the doctors said.
Carmen Gloria Quintana, 18, who is being treated in Chile for third-degree burns on 65 percent of her body, could be ready to travel to the United States or Canada for surgery as early as next month, Eisenberg said.
Quintana and Rodrigo Rojas, 19, of Washington were allegedly doused with gasoline and set on fire July 2 by a government patrol in General Velasquez, a Santiago neighborhood, Eisenberg said. Rojas later died.
'It is really up to her family,' said Dr. Jonathan Fine, president of the American Committee on Human Rights, who said hospital and lodging costs for Quintana's family would be substantial.
Fine said Dr. John Constable of Massachusetts General Hospital is trying to arrange for Quintana to come to the Shriner's Burn Institute in Boston.