In Argentina, a history of colonialism and violation of indigenous rights laid the backdrop for human rights abuses and social exclusion in the name of progress and economic development. Alongside (yet contrary to) this vein developed liberation theology, early government programs, and a sound public education system that promised socioeconomic rights to a growing, healthy middle class. These two perspectives on health and human rights sparked conflict in the 1900s.
In the 20th century, Argentina experienced political instability as the government wavered between staunch conservatives and radical liberals. These ideological conflicts often erupted into violent confrontations that shaped the discussion of health and human rights. From 1946-1955 Peronist Populism provided government assistance programs to build housing, expand basic healthcare coverage, improve the public education system, and allow for women’s suffrage. During this time free public hospital beds doubled and infant mortality fell by a third. (Dr. Escuerdo) After some political instability a military coup seized power. From 1976-1983 the Military Dictatorship silenced over 30,000 political dissidents, limited civil rights, and expanded the private market (including healthcare) in an effort to develop the nation economically. This was further exacerbated by Menem’s democratic presidency and his acquiescence to foreign corporations and the neoliberalist policies of the IMF/World Bank. These economic decisions had a huge toll on the health-care access of the Argentinean people.
In 2001, Argentina experienced a severe economic depression. Around 54% of the Argentinean population was unemployed and over 50% were under the poverty line. (Prof. Eisenberg) This had a profound effect on the ability of the Argentine health system to provide universal healthcare – suddenly people couldn’t afford private health-insurance, the ‘seguro social’ system (guaranteeing a health-insurance package with work) deteriorated as people lost their jobs; and the public health system became overburdened by more and more people. Struggling to stabilize the country, Argentina could not guarantee health as a human right to its people. This economic crisis was followed by the more progressive policies of Kitchener (2003-Present). As people regained economic wealth and work-associated health-insurance they were able to unburden the public healthcare system; the government also facilitated this by transferring people to private care when the public facilities were overbooked. Recently, there have been great efforts by the Union of Latin-American Nations (UNASUR) to promote solidarity in the fight for human rights to subsistence, health, and education in Argentina and across Latin America. To this end UNASUR created The South American Institute of Government in Health (iSAGS), which focuses on universal and equitable access to health services. (Sara Ardilla) Currently there is around 80% satisfaction in the Argentinean healthcare system. (Dr. Abriata)
Currently the greatest inequalities in human rights lie in the social exclusion of unregistered migrant workers and hard-to-reach indigenous communities. Walking the streets of Buenos Aires, there are hundreds of unregistered food vendors, garbage collectors, and artisans participating in the informal economy. Without employment protection and steady income they often lack formal housing, facilities, and health insurance. (Prof. Ardilla) Yet despite this, most foreigners (no matter what their status) do receive adequate healthcare through the public system as noted in our Migration and Health Pannel. (Migration and Health, Pannel) While health as a human right is guaranteed to all Argentineans, there is still difficulty reaching the rural areas where many indigenous people live. As Messer notes, “… the contradiction between constitutional guarantees to citizens and abuses against indigenous peoples highlights the continuing gap between citizen and protections…” (Messer 230) This is more evident in other Latin-American countries, but remains a problem in Argentina.
One way that Argentina addressed the health of its people is by providing programs to alleviate issues and ensure that health is a human right. To address high out-of-pocket expenditure for pharmaceuticals the government introduced the REMEDIAR Program (free medications); to address maternal/child health the government introduced Plan NACER (ante-natal coverage through pay for performance); and to address the health and wellbeing of young children the government introduced the Asignacion Universal por Hijo (providing cash transfers to pay for food, transport, clothes, and education). (Dr. Paepe) While these health services are essential, there is currently a fragmentation among these government programs and the three health-insurance systems that make sustainability an issue. (Dr. Paepe) The fracturing of the traditional healthcare workforce because of specialization and poor distribution also contributes to this lack of sustainability – there are currently only four doctors for every Argentine nurse. (Dr. Paepe) This fracturing of the healthcare system poses the largest problem currently in Argentina. Despite challenges in providing health as a human right to all members of society, Argentina has done an excellent job on behalf of its people.
Messer, Ellen. “Anthropology and Human Rights.” Annual Review of Anthropology. 1993. 22: 221-249.
Dr. Rasheed: National Network of Public Laboratories. “Production of Pharmaceuticals.” Buenos Aires, Argentina. March 15, 2013.
Dr. Escuerdo: Physician. “Argentinean History through the Eyes of a Physician.” Buenos Aires, Argentina. March 12, 2013.
Prof. Matias Eisenberg: Cultural Sociologist at St. Martin University. “A Brief History of Argentina.” Buenos Aires, Argentina. March 11, 2013.
Prof. Sara Ardilla: IHP Coordinator and Former Professor. “South to South Cooperation: Health as a Human Right in Latin America.” Buenos Aires, Argentina. March 12, 2013.
Dr. Abriata: Argentinean Ministry of Health. “Health Policy in Argentina – The Health and Sickness Profile.” Buenos Aires, Argentina. March 13, 2013.
Dr. Pierre de Paepe: Tropical Medicine Institute Researcher. “The Argentinean Health System.” Buenos Aires, Argentina. March 13, 2013.
Migration and Health Pannel. Buenos Aires, Argentina. March 20, 2013.