Teenage suicides double as the future crumbles

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 25 May 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1238

Sophie Arie in Buenos Aires describes what happens to a nation's health when its economy collapses

Ramon Fernandez has been waiting in a hospital in Argentina for over a month, desperately hoping someone will find him a pacemaker.

The 54 year old farm worker from the province of Mendoza, in Argentina's central Andean region, would normally rely on the public health service to provide him with the £4000 ($5840; Embedded Image6350) implant he needs to make his heart beat normally. His daughter, who earns £75 a month as a social worker and is the only member of the family with an income, cannot foot the bill.

But things are far from normal in Argentina. Since January the country's traumatic devaluation has made imported drugs and medical supplies over three times their previous price. While the bankrupt government's health budget remains the same, its dollar purchasing power has plunged from £463 per head in 1998 to roughly £126 per head this year.

Public hospitals, rationing their stocks and carrying out emergency surgery only, are suddenly short of everything from surgical gloves to drugs for cancer and AIDS.

Doctors, …

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