Health & Medicine

Romania's healthcare system leaving poor without access to care, for years

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Five-month-old baby Alessia Truica, pictured with her parents, Florin and Daniela, was born with opaque corneas and needs transplants to see. The cost could be as high as $ 80,000 and the Truicas who earn about $600 a month, were told to wait three years

Romania’s healthcare system is in shambles.

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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 bribes or the cost of medical care abroad.

In recent years, more and more have been getting help via informal charity events, like one helping a blind five-month old baby named Alessia Truica.

Alessia’s eyes are milky blue. As soon as the baby opened them, her mother, Daniela Truica, said she knew something was wrong.

“She was born with opaque corneas,” sae 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 sought out Romania’s best eye surgeon. His advice 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.”

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 quality has only 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 free public healthcare, the quality of treatment is disastrous.

“I can take you on a tour of hospitals all over Romania,” he said, "and you’d be terrified.”

Andreescu is now a music DJ going by the 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 gig – for Alessia, the baby who is blind.

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. Craciun said healthcare will still be free, but people who are able to buy additional insurance will get better 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.

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