This year we have seen a growing financial crisis in Guatemala, which has threatened the TulaSalud program in the department of Alta Verapaz. We are pleased to report that as of December 5, the worst of the crisis seems to have been averted, at least for now.
The fiscal crisis was precipitated by the government’s inability to get a budget passed at the end of 2013 because of conflicts in Congress. So this year all ministries were forced to operate within the 2013 budget.
By July the Ministry of Health was running short of funds so they stopped paying many of the Prestadoras de Servicios de Salud (the PSSs—the various NGOs who are contracted by the Ministry to provide care to many rural communities). The same fate eventually befell contract and full-time personnel in Ministry itself. So from July onwards, the situation was perilous. The Hospital Helen Lossi in the main town Cobán, and health workers in the DASAV (the Ministry’s operations in Alta Verapaz) went unpaid or were paid sporadically from July onwards. Medical supplies in the hospitals and the health centers were depleted. Even vaccinations for children were no longer available.
Rotating strikes in DASAV began in August. Our partners at DASAV, Dr. Chen and his team, spent a great deal of time juggling this very difficult issue. And things were even worse for the PSSs.
Since DASAV and the PSSs are the key partners of TulaSalud, our own program came under great stress, and we needed to step back from some of our objectives for expansion.
On Friday Dr. Chen received a text message from the Minister of Health, as did all the other directors of the health areas, saying that the government had somehow found the money to pay the PSSs who still have contracts. A reprieve, albeit a short term one.
We salute the dedication of all the front line health workers in DASAV and the PSSs who have pressed on with their important work despite this turmoil.