(Washington, D.C.) – Today, global health activists took to the streets of Capitol Hill to highlight the looming health crisis facing the people of Argentina. Strict targets set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mean the Argentinean government is taking drastic measures to significantly cut the national AIDS program and even dissolve the Ministry of Health. These austerity measures threaten the lives and health of millions of people in Argentina.
“These measures are outrageous,” said Lorena Di Giano, Executive Director of Fundación GEP. “This reckless approach being taken by the government not only threatens lives and will be irreversible for many people, but it is also counter-intuitive and will cost them much more in the future.”
In Argentina, 60,000 people living with HIV are currently receiving life-saving HIV treatment through the government AIDS program; however, proposed budget cuts of 50% mean that almost a third of those people will no longer be treated. 15,000 people who currently rely on publicly funded HIV medicines will be forced to go without treatment. HIV is a chronic disease that requires daily treatment for life. Adherence is critical. Treatment interruptions put people at risk of health complications, becoming resistant to antiretroviral treatment regimens, or even death.
Cutting the budget for HIV treatment will increase healthcare costs in three ways. Firstly, people living with HIV who develop resistance will be forced to switch to newer, more expensive second- or third-line treatment regimens if and when they are able to resume treatment. Secondly, evidence shows that HIV treatment is one of the single most effective ways to prevent HIV transmission. By reducing access, many more HIV infections will occur that could have been avoided, meaning many more people will need HIV treatment in the future. Thirdly, treatment interruptions worsen the long-term health outcomes of people living with HIV who are put at risk of various cancers and further health issues later in life requiring other healthcare and medicines. Of great concern is also the fate of the viral hepatitis treatment program that started providing treatment for people living with hepatitis C in 2015; an estimated 300,000 people in Argentina have hepatitis C.
Of equal concern is the move to dissolve the Ministry of Health that signals a major affront to people’s health and human rights. Without a centralized and dedicated health department, activists fear further health budget cuts and major failures in the public health system. This will reverse the significant progress Argentina has made in working towards universal health coverage, putting countless more lives at risk.
These austerity measures were introduced following an agreement signed between Argentinean government and the IMF. The targets of this agreement need to be urgently reworked in order to reverse these threats.
“Dismantling the Ministry of Health is a criminal act and a major breach of human rights. It is detrimental to our economy and risks an unacceptable loss of life. We urge the IMF to urgently intervene,” Di Giano continued.
“It is morally reprehensible for the IMF to sit back and watch while Argentina’s health system unravels given that these cuts are directly related to achieving the targets set by the IMF. Public health and people’s lives must be protected as the country attempts to curb its currency crisis,” said Lotti Rutter from Health GAP.