A recent radio programme by the BBC has highlighted the crisis in Romania’s hospitals, after a nine-year-old boy, Cristian Grigore, died of an infection after being admitted for a broken arm.
The second poorest country in the European Union (EU), Romania has the lowest spending per capita on health care than any other EU country, with just 3.6% of GDP. Many hospitals are heavily in debt and are unable to buy the drugs and medical supplies required for their patients. Even basic medicines are not always available and Cristian’s father reported buying painkillers for his son with his own money.
The dire situation in the hospitals is made worse by the low wages earned by health professionals, with a junior doctor taking home just 400 dollars per month. And under the government’s proposed austerity plans, these wages could be cut in the future by a quarter. Already, since 2007 almost 5,000 doctors (or 1 in 10) have left the country to work abroad.
The latest minister for Health, Attila Cseke, has said that while Romania continues to rely on the International Monetary fund to support its finances, there is little he can do about wage levels. In an attempt to improve management of limited finances, he has transferred control of many hospitals over to the local councils in July this year.
This change will hopefully lead to some improvement, since apart from lack of medical supplies and staff, hospitals are also facing new demands from the resurgence of tuberculosis (TB). TB has killed more people than any other disease in history, because it spreads so easily; left untreated, one sufferer will infect on average 10 to 15 other people merely by coughing, sneezing or breathing near them. And following the misuse of medicines, there are now drug-resistant strains of the disease which require extensive chemotherapy (up to two years of treatment) with second-line anti-TB drugs, which are much more expensive than the standard first-line drugs.
Romania has the highest rate of TB infection in the EU. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the country records 27,000 cases of TB each year, an increasing number of whom are suffering from drug-resistant TB. And most of the sufferers are young adults, many of them men who act as the breadwinners, so the loss of earnings through illness can affect whole families.
Since the health care system of Romania is struggling to cope, some charities like The Relief Fund for Romania (base in the UK) are focusing funds and resources in the fight against TB and working with the WHO to ensure medical staff are adequately trained. It is only to be hoped that these medical experts will not be tempted to leave Romania by better wages elsewhere, before the fight against TB is won.