TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The state of healthcare in Honduras points to a larger story of political corruption within the country. The country’s public healthcare system suffers from poor management and a lack of resources, preventing those who rely on it from receiving proper care.
Understanding the System
Healthcare in Honduras operates through both a private and public system. Honduras reserves the private system for the wealthy and those who have private insurers, an economic elite that represents roughly 10% of the population. The public system comprises of two institutions: the Ministry of Health and the Honduran Social Security Institute. The Ministry of Health is open to all, though only about half of the population uses it regularly. Meanwhile, the Honduran Social Security Institute only covers 40% of individuals who have employment, totaling around 18% of the population. Between these two healthcare systems, about 17% of the population does not have routine access to healthcare.
Honduras’ healthcare system has received poor management. The country’s health expenditure as of 2017 has a budget of about 7.86% of its GDP. This lack of funding has led to dwindling resources. According to a CDC report, Honduras has only 0.37 doctors per 1,000 people. Basic medical supplies and hospital beds are also sparse and patients are often on their own to find the medication they need.
A History of Corruption
The handling of healthcare in Honduras speaks to a larger story of political corruption that has long plagued the country’s government. The current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, began his second term in 2017 following allegations of conducting a fraudulent election. People have since connected him to a drug trafficking scheme that his brother, Tony Hernández, orchestrated. In 2014, President Hernández’s campaign funds from his 2013 election had ties to a massive corruption scandal that robbed more than $300 million from the Honduran Social Security Institute, a huge loss for the healthcare system that estimates determine led to 2,800 deaths.
Another corruption scandal came to head in 2015 when The National Anti-Corruption Council revealed: “that 49 percent of the public health budget had been diverted to other purposes.”
Personal Impact of a Mismanaged System
Political corruption and a lack of resources within the healthcare system leaves the people of Honduras to fend for themselves in order to get the care they need. For example, a Honduran immigrant told The Borgen Project that a lack of medical supplies meant that she had to pay for almost everything when her mother got sick, down to the cotton balls and alcohol swabs to administer vaccines. If she had extra supplies leftover, she gave it to the next person in need.
“The government doesn’t care about the people,” she told The Borgen Project, adding that “The president has a helicopter; he goes to Italy to see fashion shows… It doesn’t make sense. And how about the poor people? They don’t have medication; they don’t have food; they don’t have houses.”
When asked about the international aid that goes to Honduras’ government, she expressed her concern, telling The Borgen Project that the lack of financial oversight causes the money to easily go astray in the chain of corruption infiltrating the government. She said that “the money never goes to the place it is supposed to go.”
The COVID-19 Threat
The current COVID-19 pandemic has further weakened the already fragile state of healthcare in Honduras. Hospitals have an overabundance of patients and are lacking ventilators. For people who live far from the cities’ hospitals, access to health care is almost impossible. A shortage of personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves and gowns, leave the doctors who are at the forefront of this pandemic particularly vulnerable.
Immediate Aid and Long-Term Solutions
Given the widespread corruption and lack of transparency, direct aid to the Honduran government can be difficult to monitor. Instead, the best way to help the people of Honduras is to give directly to grassroots organizations.
In 2018, Médecins Sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders) conducted “11,000 outpatient consultations” and “4,390 individual mental health consultations” in Honduras. It also treated 300 people following incidents of sexual violence. In the fight against COVID-19, Médecins Sans Frontières assembled a team to work with severe cases in an annex of Tegucigalpa’s National Autonomous University of Honduras.
Central American Medical Outreach is also taking steps to help Honduras. The organization provides on-the-ground care through programs focused on women’s health, disabilities, surgery and general medical needs. It also annually ships six to eight 40 foot containers of donated clean and unexpired medical supplies to hospitals and clinics in Honduras. From March to April 2020, the organization served 13,156 patients and collected 1,347 boxes of donated medical supplies and personal protective equipment.
Such work is necessary in order to provide immediate aid to the people of Honduras, especially during the current COVID-19 emergency. However, the country’s broken healthcare system remains a looming threat. The Association for a More Just Society seeks to better Honduras’s healthcare system by advocating for transparency, investigating institutions and reporting corruption. Tackling these issues is crucial: the future of healthcare in Honduras relies on an ability to rid the system of corruption, once and for all.
– Jessica Blatt