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Hugo Lopez-Gatell Hugo López-Gatell at the 75th World Health Assembly's opening event on Sunday. He challenged the thinking that the private sector is more efficient than the public.Photos from Hugo López-Gatell/twitter

Health minister says neoliberalism to blame for increase in chronic illnesses

Hugo López Gatell tells international assembly that political ideology protects commercial interests over health

Neoliberalism has contributed to an increase in the prevalence of chronic diseases in Mexico and around the world, according to Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell.

The federal government defines Mexico’s neoliberal period as the 36 years between 1982 and 2018, the year President López Obrador took office.

Speaking at the World Health Organization’s 75th World Health Assembly in Switzerland on Tuesday, López-Gatell said that “another world is possible for health and peace,” but hindering its construction is a “structural barrier” in the form of an “economic system that has concentrated wealth, degraded our ecosystems and protected commercial interests over health interests.”

“Neoliberalism as a doctrine and a system has justified itself with the dogma that the private sector is invariably more efficient than the public sector,” he said.

Hugo Lopez Gatell at World Health Assembly 2022
Among other social ills, Gatell also blamed neoliberalism for job insecurity, degradation of ecosystems and food insecurity.

“… The negative effects of this model are enormous,” López-Gatell added, citing social inequality, job insecurity, degradation of ecosystems, the dismantling of welfare systems, food insecurity, an increase in violence and erosion of cultural wealth.

“The health of our people has consequently deteriorated,” the deputy minister said.

The government’s coronavirus czar said the COVID-19 pandemic has provided “three fundamental lessons,” the first of which was that the “enormous burden of chronic illnesses … resulting from the individual and collective lifestyles that neoliberalism creates a favorable atmosphere for, is the biggest risk factor associated with serious COVID.”

López-Gatell also said that the pandemic has highlighted the need to “close the enormous gaps of social and economic inequality” in order to have communities that are resistant to future health emergencies. In addition, it has shown that universal health care schemes are essential in order to guarantee social wellbeing, he said.

Hugo Lopez Gatell at WHA 2022
López-Gatell also participated in a WHA forum on obesity, organized by World Obesity, a global NGO. World Obesity

“Improving health doesn’t depend as much on personal decisions as it does on modifying structural factors. We must generate conditions and capacities to mobilize and empower communities [and] manage natural resources for their benefit,” López-Gatell said.

In a five-minute address, the deputy minister also railed against multinational companies that produce processed food and beverages, which he described as the “driving force” behind chronic diseases. He has previously described sugary drinks as “bottled poison.”

López-Gatell also told the WHO event that “we need to fight resolutely against tobacco and alcohol addiction,” which he claimed is “induced and stimulated by an industry that systematically corrupts the efforts of regulation and control by governments.”

He accused tobacco and alcohol companies of using “tactics to recruit minors through new and emerging products like vaping devices and electronic cigarettes.”

The deputy minister’s attack on neoliberalism is in line with the rhetoric of López Obrador, who blames past neoliberal governments for all manner of problems plaguing Mexico today.

In 2020, the president claimed that the pandemic served as proof that the neoliberal economic model had failed. In a lengthy dispatch entitled Some lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, he also blamed neoliberal governments for failing to respond over a period of decades to the widespread prevalence of health problems that make many people more susceptible to serious COVID-19 illness.

Later the same year a high-ranking agriculture official blamed neoliberalism for Mexico’s high levels of junk food consumption and resulting high levels of obesity.

“In summary, we can say that the neoliberal model imposed food imperialism, a colonization of our palates,” said Deputy Agriculture Minister Víctor Suárez Carrera.

With reports from El Universal 

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