Health Is a National Priority: General Health CouncilBy Miriam Bello | Wed, 10/13/2021 - 17:28
Q: What were the responsibilities of the General Health Council during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: The General Health Council approves and publishes in the DOF (the nation’s Official Gazette) the occurrence of serious illnesses that constitute an emergency or threaten national security. The council also approves agreements and other general provisions of mandatory observance in matters of general health.
Regarding the pandemic, the first action we took was on March 19, 2020, when the council declared itself in permanent session to perform a situational analysis to determine the lines of action to face the global COVID-19 pandemic. This led to the publication of the Agreement by which the General Health Council recognized the epidemic of the disease caused by the SARS-CoV2 virus (COVID-19) in Mexico as a serious disease requiring priority attention and established the activities to prepare and the response to this epidemic.
Through a group of experts, the council issued the Bioethics Guide for the Allocation of Limited Resources for Critical Medicine in Emergency Situations. This guide will come into operation if the existing critical care capacity in a hospital is exceeded or is close to being exceeded and it is not possible to refer patients in need of critical care to other hospitals.
Q: How is the Council a bridge between Mexico’s public and private sectors and what have been its most recent successes in conciliating these two fronts?
A: The Council is a complementary actor between the two sectors. It is a collegiate body where public and private perspectives converge because universal coverage is a challenge for which infrastructure and budget are insufficient if considered separately.
The Council is also a bridge for collaboration, not only inter-institutional but inter-sectorial, with contributions from public and private health and academic institutions. This characteristic allows for healthcare to be analyzed from different approaches and not exclusively by the health sector itself. There is evidence supporting this type of collaboration, such as the High Specialty Regional Hospitals and the hospital reconversion program applied during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Q: Mexico’s health expenditure is below the average of OECD countries. Considering the current situation, what are the country’s priorities according to this assigned budget?
A: According to Health at a Glance, health spending represents 5.5 percent of GDP, which is among the lowest of the OECD countries. Health insurance coverage for vulnerable populations has improved but gaps persist. The coverage of a basic set of health services in Mexico is the lowest in the OECD at 89.3 percent. Out-of-pocket expenses remain high, representing 41 percent of total health spending.
Mexico’s health expenditure per capita is US$1,134, whereas the average of the OECD is US$3,806. Mexico’s health expenditure as a percentage of GDP is 5.5 percent, which is below the OECD average of 8.8 percent. The number of practicing physicians per 1,000 people is 2.4; the OECD average is 3.5. The number of practicing nurses per 1,000 people is 2.9; the OECD average is 8.8.
The priorities in each administration are established in the Sectoral Health Program, which is derived from the National Development Plan. Among the priorities of the current program are to make heath effective, universal and free to access; to continuously work to improve technical competence, medical quality, cultural relevance and non-discriminatory, dignified and humane treatment; to care for the capacity and quality of health personnel and infrastructure, especially in regions with high and very high marginalization; to carry out epidemiological surveillance; and to promote health and well-being.
Q: Is healthcare a national priority for Mexico?
A: Mexico’s public health challenges are related to its demographic and epidemiological transition, which makes them a national priority to improve the health and well-being of Mexicans.
The country suffers from several chronic non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular, oncological and degenerative diseases. The country also faces diseases linked to poverty and misinformation, such as infectious diseases, although at a smaller rate. Other diseases are linked to unhealthy lifestyles and reproductive health, with teenage pregnancy being one of the most common problems.
The priorities are to influence the social determinants of health and fight against the negative effects of the pandemic, with a human rights approach to ensure the well-being of the population and a preventive nature. This approach also addresses the needs of specific groups, such as migrants, indigenous people and Afro-descendants, and supports sexual and cultural diversity.
Health is and should always be a national priority since it is a Constitutional right. The state of health reflects the level of prevention, control or abatement of the risks that affect it. To make health an effective right, Mexico requires that all services and medicines are granted to the non-eligible population without detriment to quality. For that, a patient-centric model is required. It is also necessary to strengthen the quality-of-service provision in social security institutions, have competent human resources for the provision of services at all levels of care and a permanent and mandatory verification of quality levels.
The General Health Council is a government organization that reports directly to the president of Mexico. The Council has the character of a health authority, with normative, advisory and executive functions. Its provisions are general and mandatory.