The new governor of the eastern Mexican state, Miguel Ángel Yunes, is using the terms “brutal sin” and “attack against children’s lives” to describe a corrupt public health system that allegedly used fake medication to treat kids with cancer and knowingly bought counterfeit HIV tests.
“We have the results of a lab test showing that a medication that was being administered to children in chemotherapy [at public hospitals] was not in fact a drug at all, but distilled water,” said Yunes at a press conference.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg in a tale of statewide medical negligence and corruption, he added.
The state’s public health system is now in bankruptcy, and doctors are having trouble getting their paychecks
“There are other, much more serious cases such as the purchase of thousands of fake HIV tests,” said Antonio Nemi, who was health secretary under Duarte between March 2013 and October 2014, in a conversation with EL PAÍS.
“Between 50,000 and 70,000 were bought. They all gave out negative test results; they were detected in time and never reached the population, but eight million pesos (€345,335) were spent in the knowledge that they were fake.”
Nemi is laying the blame on Ricardo Sandoval, a former administrator at the health department whom he fired as soon as he himself became secretary in March 2013.
“Javier Duarte knew about this. I filed more than 400 criminal and administrative complaints, and I personally walked into his office and told him about it countless times,” he says. “Duarte always encouraged me to act and to report any irregularities I saw.”
But a year and a half later, in October 2014, Nemi was sacked and Sandoval was given his old job back, where he was once again in charge of making expensive purchases on behalf of the Veracruz health services.
“I went public with this information again and again. Why do you think I got fired?” asks Nemi.
The state’s public health system is now in bankruptcy, and doctors and other health professionals are having trouble getting their paychecks. The federal government has had to step in with a bailout, and a government audit shows that nearly €2.5 billion has been siphoned off from public hospitals and medical centers.
Yet the corruption goes back much further than Duarte’s era, to the 2004-2010 period when the state was being run by Fidel Herrera, who is now the Mexican consul in Barcelona.
Following the revelations about the distilled water used to treat young cancer patients, on Tuesday it emerged that the Veracruz Comptroller’s Office has known since 2011 that a consignment of counterfeit drugs purchased in 2010 under Herrera was, in fact, fake medication after Roche, the pharmaceutical giant, provided confirmation of the fact.
The fake drugs, which had no active ingredient, were sent to the Xalapa Cancer State Center, which treats mostly children and teens. When it emerged that they had been sold by a contractor named Especialidades Médicas del Sureste, the company lost its public award in May 2011, under Duarte. But no charges were pressed against its officials, who had ties to the federal deputy Jorge Carvallo Delfín, a former aide of Duarte’s.
English version by Susana Urra.