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Bolivia to offer free, universal healthcare by March 1

By
Renzo Pipoli
President of Bolivia Juan Evo Morales on Wednesday signed a bill to move forward with plans to create a universal, healthcare system by March 1. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
President of Bolivia Juan Evo Morales on Wednesday signed a bill to move forward with plans to create a universal, healthcare system by March 1. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Bolivian President Evo Morales signed a law Wednesday to bring universal, free healthcare to at least several areas of Bolivia by March 1, sparking opposition by local doctors.

"The investment guaranteed to support the unique health system is $200 million. Never before in the history of Bolivia had so much been invested nor in items nor in health infrastructure," Morales said as he signed the law, El Deber newspaper reported.

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Morales said that since 2006, a total of 1,061 medical centers were created, compared with 2,870 health centers built in the preceding 180 years.

Gabriela Montano, the country's health minister, said "all Bolivians will have the possibility of having top quality healthcare."

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However, only doctors trained in Cuba were present during the signing. Many Bolivian doctors oppose the move.

Erwin Viruez, president of the Bolivian doctor association Colegio Medico de Bolivia, said his organization opposes the legislation because it will only expand some of the free care that had previously been already offered.

In addition, local doctors are also concerned about income. Viruez said that every year Bolivian universities produce some 5,000 doctors. He said that universities may have to close "because neither work nor stability is guaranteed for these professionals."

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The Bolivian health ministry said Tuesday it may not be possible in some states to launch the healthcare plan as some regional governments like those in Tarija, Santa Cruz and La Paz have placed "barriers."

Morales, 59 and a former coca grower, became president of Bolivia in 2006. Under his leadership, Bolivia has aligned with other governments in Latin America such as Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela that describe themselves as socialists.

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