Mexico’s cancer and HIV patients hunt for medicine after AMLO decree

For 10 years, it was pretty much like clockwork at the Mexico City clinic where Paquito Barrera picks up his HIV drugs every month. Then, in October, he left empty-handed. Ever since, he has had unnervingly uneven success in getting the antiretroviral-therapy cocktail that helps keep him alive.

“I’ve lost count of how many times they’ve told me to come back later,” said Barrera, a 34-year-old dressmaker. “How can they let this happen?”

He meant the government, which has struggled to respond to unusually stark shortages of medicines and medical supplies that are roiling Mexico and driving street protests. The roots of the crisis, by most accounts, were sweeping changes President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered last year to public-health programs in the name of rooting out corruption and cutting costs.

The unintended consequences rippling through the system are raising concerns about preparedness for the novel coronavirus; Mexico confirmed its first cases last week. “With the levels of shortages we’re seeing, it’s worrying,” said Senator Martha Marquez, a member of the opposition National Action Party who sits on the Health Committee.

Mexico has long been plagued by spot scarcities of drugs and medical equipment, sometimes severe enough to cause cancellations of crucial surgeries. But the situation now is extraordinary, according to patients, nonprofit health-care groups and independent analysts. Even cotton balls and alcohol are impossible to find in some hospitals, nurses and other staff say.

Lopez Obrador has dodged questions about whether his policies are responsible for the dearth of a range of drugs identified by advocacy groups and patients, including for chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell recently told reporters that unidentified “interests” are behind the complaints and demonstrations.

“There has been a lot of misinformation,” he said.

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