In Romania, health care is sick | The world of PRX

The Romanian healthcare system is in shambles. Critics say a combination of mismanagement, corruption and now the economic crisis is making it increasingly difficult for people to get good care. This is especially true for Romania’s poor… who cannot afford local bribes or the cost of medical treatment abroad. In recent years, more and more people have received help through informal charity events, such as those organized recently for a five-month-old blind baby named Alessia Truica. Alessia’s eyes are milky blue. As soon as the baby opened them, her mother Daniela said she knew something was wrong. “She was born with opaque corneas,” Ms Truica said in a recent interview in Bucharest. “No light is coming in, so she needs a transplant for both eyes. Without it, she won’t be able to see.” The Truicas said they searched for the best eye surgeon in Romania. His advice, Ms. Truica said, took them by surprise. “The doctor told us to go home and wait,” she said. “That he would fix Alessia’s eyes – in three years.” This is because in Romania there is not a single doctor with the expertise to perform this operation on babies, only on older children. To get treatment now, the Truicas have to go abroad. In the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Romania had good medical facilities and many good doctors. The way things went south is complicated, said Radu Craciun, an economist in Bucharest who studies health care. Cracian said healthcare spending has actually increased in recent years, but quality has declined. “Poor cost management,” he said. “Hospitals have been big spenders without justifying their spending. There is corruption. And bad relations between big pharma and doctors, who recommend the most expensive drug all the time.” And now the budget cuts begin. At least one hospital has been closed and the salaries of state health workers have been cut. As a result, Romania is losing many of its best doctors to better jobs abroad. George Dorin Andreescu was supposed to be part of a new generation of Romanian doctors, those who could offset the medical brain drain. He graduated from medical school in 2007 but soon hung up his stethoscope. “Everything is falling apart, brick by brick,” he said. And I’m terrified of it. When I started, I had hope. And when I finished, I said to myself, I don’t want to do this anymore.” Andreescu said that although Romanians are still entitled to free public health care, the quality of treatment is now dire. “I can show you around hospitals all over Romania,” he said, “and you’d be terrified.” Andreescy is now a music DJ. His stage name, Gojira. One recent night, he said he was doing more to help a sick person with his music than was the public healthcare system. Gojira was playing a charity night – for Alessia Truica, the blind baby. Goshila and some of Romania’s most famous bands performed for free in a former cotton processing factory in Bucharest The woman “Even if we don’t manage to have a lot of money,” she said, unless something changed, that was the likely future financing health care for the poor electronic music, “everyone can find out about the case. And others, maybe they have children and they will help. Other things will come from this kind of event.” The Romanian government is aware of its health crisis. As of next year, it is planning an ambitious overhaul. The idea: to let hospitals compete for medical contracts. private insurance. Economist Radu Craciun said health care will always be free, but people will be able to purchase additional insurance, for the best care. What if you’re poor and can’t afford it?” Craciun said , “which has yet to be defined.” If this basic package isn’t a marked improvement over healthcare in Romania today, then families like the Truicas will likely still turn to charity for help.

Helen D. Jessen