Cost Overruns, VIP Vaccines And Non-compliance: More Than 20 Health Ministers Have Fallen Around The World Since The Start Of The Pandemic

One year after the start of the pandemic, more than 20 health ministers around the world have been fired or have resigned, many of them in Latin America. Clashes with presidents and prime ministers, scandals over parallel vaccination programs for VIPs, cost overruns in the purchase of medical supplies or violation of their own regulations to contain the virus are the main reasons for the fall of the ministers.

Bolsonaro’s Brazil is going for its third Minister of Health since the coronavirus crisis broke out in the country, which has become the second country in the world with the most deaths (255,000). The first, the doctor Luiz Henrique Mandetta, was dismissed by Bolsonaro in April last year for not following the denialist policy of the president and his opposition to the restrictions adopted by governors and mayors.

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Then the far-right leader appointed oncologist Nelson Teich. “What I talked to Dr. Nelson is that we gradually have to open up the country,” Bolsonaro said. At that time, in the official figures, Brazil did not reach 2,000 deaths. One month after, Teich himself announced his resignation due to obvious differences with the president. Bolsonaro “had a different vision of what protocol to follow,” justified the president’s chief of staff, Walter Braga Netto, when the country was already close to 15,000 deaths.

The third and current minister, Eduardo Pazuello, general of the Army, tested positive for coronavirus and had to be hospitalized. At the end of January, Pazuello moved to the state of Manaus to manage the serious health crisis suffered by the Amazon region in full controversy over the investigation against him in the Supreme Court for the management of the pandemic. In the Dominican Republic there have also been two resignations, the last one, last Friday, due to a cost overrun scandal.

Worse has been the case of Peru, where in the last year there have been five different Ministers of Health. The first, Elizabeth Hinostroza, was dismissed at the end of March 2020 – just a few days after registering the first case in the country – to choose a health professional with “more experience in this type of problem”, in the words of the then president Martín Vizcarra. His successor was Víctor Zamora, who in one of his first statements said: “Sooner or later, we are all going to end up infected with the coronavirus.”

Zamora was replaced by Pilar Mazzetti. After the expulsion of Vizcarra in a political trial, a brief government led by Manuel Merino put Aber Salinas in charge of Health, but it only lasted five days. The current president, Francisco Sagasti reappointed Mazzetti as minister. However, the minister was forced to leave office in mid-February after it was revealed that Vizcarra had been vaccinated in October 2020, four months before the start of the immunization program in the country. Vizcarra defended himself by claiming that he had participated as a volunteer in the clinical trial of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.

In Argentina, it was another ‘VIP vaccines’ scandal that ended in February with the forced resignation of the Minister of Health Ginés González García. The scandal broke out when it was learned that officials and personalities close to the Government received the vaccine, skipping the protocols required of the rest of the population. In Ecuador, Minister Catalina Andramuño resigned after denouncing that the Government had not allocated sufficient resources to fight the pandemic. His successor, Juan Carlos Zevallos, resigned last week due to another scandal of parallel vaccinations, including his relatives.

Bolivia also has five Ministers of Health since the start of the pandemic. The first was dismissed by the then president, Jeanine Áñez, after uncovering a scandal in the purchase of respirators purchased at more than double their normal price. Her successor, Heidy Roca, had to withdraw after becoming infected and was temporarily replaced by the then Defense Minister. The next, Édgar Pozo, also had to withdraw in January after testing positive and requiring hospitalization.

The Chilean Minister of Health, Jaime Mañalich, resigned in June 2020 after months of controversy and criticism for his management. At the beginning of the pandemic, Mañalich, justifying his decision not to impose strong restrictions, said: “What happens if this virus mutates into a more benign form? What happens if it mutates and becomes a good person?” The controversy that ultimately sparked the resignation was the revelation that the ministry sent WHO death figures different and higher than those communicated to the population.

There are also health ministers who have resigned after breaking their own regulations to contain the virus, as is the case with David Clark, from New Zealand. “I’m an idiot. I understand that people are angry”, declared after being hunted breaking confinement. Clark was caught after taking a trip to the beach.

Something similar happened in the Czech Republic, which has had three different health ministers. The former resigned at the end of September after an uncontrolled increase in cases. His successor, Roamn Prymula, was removed by the Prime Minister after being photographed leaving a restaurant in Prague It should have been closed due to restrictions. Prymula, however, remained as an adviser to the prime minister, but a few days ago he was fired again after go to the stadium to watch a Europa League football game in Pragam although these are closed to the public. “Prymula has no social intelligence,” the prime minister said.

Also in Europe, Latvian Health Minister Ilze Vinkele was fired in January this year for what the prime minister described as the lack of a vaccination program. “The prime minister is trying to take responsibility for the entire management of the COVID-19 crisis,” Vinkele responded at a press conference. In April 2020, it was also Romanian Health Minister forced to resign for a controversial management of the pandemic.

Israel’s Health Minister, the ultra-Orthodox Yaakov Litzman, resigned in May 2020 and took over the Housing portfolio. Litzman received much criticism for managing the health crisis and for opposing restrictions on the country’s religious community. The minister ended up infected and the Ministry of Health had to install a computer and internet at home so that he could work while in quarantine.

In Mongolia not only the Minister of Health has fallen, but the entire Government of the country, including the prime minister, following protests sparked in January by the publication of a video showing how a woman and her newborn baby were rushed to an infectious disease hospital. The video shows the woman, still in a dressing gown, and the baby, out in the open.

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