Global Politics

In Romania, Healthcare Sickens

Romania's healthcare system is in shambles. Critics say a combination of mismanagement, corruption and now the economic crisis makes it harder and harder for people to get good care. This is especially true for Romania's poor…who can't afford local bribes, or the cost of medical care abroad. In recent years, more and more have been getting help via informal charity events, like those held recently for a blind five-month old baby named Alessia Truica.

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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," Mrs. Truica said in a recent interview in Bucharest. "No light gets in, so she needs a transplant for both eyes. Without it she will not be able to see."

The Truicas said they sought out Romania's best eye surgeon. His advice, said Mrs. Truica, caught them by surprise.

"The doctor told us to go home and wait," she said. "That he'd fix Alessia's eyes — in three years."

That's because in Romania, there isn't a single doctor with the expertise to perform this surgery on babies, only on older children. To get treatment now, the Truica's must go abroad.

In the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Romania had good medical facilities and lots of good doctors. How things went south is complicated, said Radu Craciun, an economist in Bucharest who studies healthcare. Cracian said spending on healthcare has actually gone up in recent years, but the quality has gone down.

"Poor cost management," he said. "The hospitals have been big spenders without justifying the expenditures. There's corruption. And wrong relationships between the big pharmaceutical companies and doctors, who all the time recommend the most expensive medicine."

And now budget cuts are beginning. At least one hospital has been closed, and salaries for state healthcare workers reduced. As a result, Romania is losing many of its best doctors to better jobs abroad. George Dorin Andreescu was supposed to be one of a new generation of Romanian doctors, the ones who might compensate for the medical brain drain. He graduated from medical school in 2007 but promptly hung up his stethoscope.

'Everything is falling down, brick by brick," he said. And I'm terrified of this. When I started, I had hope. And when I finished I was like, I don't want to do this anymore."

Andreescu said though Romanians still have the right to free public healthcare, the quality of treatment is now disastrous.

"I can take you a tour of hospitals all over Romania," he said, 'and you'd be terrified."

Andreescy is now a music DJ. His stage name, Gojira. On a recent night he said he was doing more to help a sick person with his music than the state healthcare system was. Gojira was playing a charity party — for Alessia Truica, the blind baby.

Goshila and some of Romania's most famous bands performed free in an old cotton processing factory in Bucharest. The woman who organized the event, Adina Tzeepa, said unless something changed, this was the likely future of healthcare funding for the poor.

"Even though if we don't manage to have a lot of money," she said, over the din of loud electronica music, "everyone can find out about the case. And others, maybe they have children and they'll help out. Others things will come along from this kind of event."

The Romanian government isn't oblivious to its healthcare crisis. Beginning next year, it plans an ambitious overhaul. The idea: to let hospitals compete with each other for private insurance contracts. Economist Radu Craciun said healthcare will still be free, but people will be able to buy additional insurance, for the best care.

And if you're poor and can't afford it?

"Then you'll enjoy the so-called basic package," Craciun said, "which still has to be defined."

If that basic package isn't a marked improvement from Romania's healthcare today, then families like the Truica's will likely still turn to charity for help.

  • Baby-header620.jpg

    Five-month-old baby Alessia Truica and her parents, Florin and Daniela. Alesya was born with opaque corneas and needs transplants to see. The cost could be as high as 80 thousand dollars. The Truicas earn about 600 dollars a month. A grassroots charity drive has raised half the money they need. Appealing to strangers for help is becoming more common in Romania, where public healthcare is in shambles and private care too expensive for many people.

  • gojira620.jpg

    George Dorin Andreescu, aka Gorija, a doctor who gave up medicine out of frustration with Romania's dysfunctional healthcare system. He's now a famous music DJ, often playing free shows to raise money for people to get medical care outside Romania.

  • techno620.jpg

    Romanian electronica gods Suie Paparude get 250 dancing at the charity event in Bucharest for 5-month-old baby Alesya Truica. Truica was born with opaque corneas and needs a transplant to see.

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