More than 500,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean, demonstrating the health and economic inequalities throughout the region. A new article analyzes seven books* that discuss these inequalities, including questions of who gets health care and what interdependent roles societies, social movements, and governments play. To end inequality in the region, the author calls for a universal approach to health care.
The article, by a professor at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), appears in the June 2021 issue of Latin American Research Review, a journal published by the Latin American Studies Association.
“These books break new ground and contribute to our understanding of some of the most important health care systems in Latin America,” says Silvia Borzutzky, teaching professor of political science and international relations at CMU’s Heinz College, who wrote the article. “In so doing, they help us understand the content and impact of health policies, an issue that has taken on new urgency during the pandemic.”
With the seven books as a backdrop, the author begins with a brief historical overview of health policies in the region, then examines the role of social movements, subnational governments, and policy implementation in ensuring access to health care. She also addresses the role of international organizations.
Borzutzky notes that most of the books’ authors are concerned with equitable and universal health care policies, but that this goal has been hampered. Even in countries with a universal right to health care, citizens have unequal access due to regional inequalities, traditional patronage relations, and the exclusion of minorities or minoritized groups.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals who lack power have borne the brunt of this lack of access. In addition, because illness results from poverty, in a post-pandemic Latin America and Caribbean, the task will be not only to provide universal, good-quality health care but also to reduce poverty across the continent, suggests the author.
“The authors of the books I reviewed are clear that health policies in this part of the world are far from universal,” Borzutzky explains. “Instead, they are fragmented and respond to the power and actions of critical groups or individuals in critical roles at specific times and places.”
Borzutzky suggests that to end inequality and expand health care to all in this region, Latin America and the Caribbean need a universal approach based on equity and inclusion, and the recognition that health care should not be parceled out in regional, economic, gender, or ethnic terms. She argues that only this approach will allow the people in the region to fulfill their capabilities and contribute to their societies’ development and success.
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