Years of violence in Tamaulipas continue to have their consequences for the state. One is the dearth of medical professionals.
Doctors with the state Health Secretariat say fewer medical professionals wish to work in some regions due to the personal risk it represents.
Ongoing violence, coupled with poor working conditions, have created a crisis for the health sector, a situation that has brought help from the international humanitarian organization Doctors without Borders (MSF).
The training provided by MSF prepares doctors for protecting themselves against organized crime and reacting in a situation where medical personnel are scarce. The organization’s project in Tamaulipas has trained 670 doctors and provided medical equipment and medicine.
The emergency services chief at the San Fernando General Hospital, Rafael Leal, explained that new physicians think twice before taking a position in one of the state’s medical facilities. “They don’t want to come, and those who do get robbed on the way, or they are kidnapped or they are intimidated and leave.”
Leal, a victim of kidnapping in 2011, is one of the hospital’s 10 emergency room doctors, a department that needs at least six more staff members to efficiently cope with the demand.
Hospitals in the state have gone to the length of offering economic incentives and weekend-only shifts to attract interns, but very few take the offer. The situation is similar with resident doctors, as hospitals receive, on average, one per year.
This is why some towns like Bonfil and San Germán now lack health care services, explained Leal. Positions in the small hospitals of those communities are often covered by young doctors, “but they don’t like it and ask to be transferred elsewhere.
“It’s not worth it for them, after seven years of school, to take a risk like that: to be beaten, harassed, all for a 2,000-peso (US $106) monthly salary,” explained Leal, who described the pay as “laughable.”
Many doctors have been kidnapped to take care of injured criminals, often in substandard conditions and without any guarantee for the patient’s, or the doctor’s, lives.
Nicolás Cisneros, emergency services chief at the Matamoros General Hospital, has twice found himself in that position.
“I’ve been abducted to take care of them, and returned once all is over, but it is humiliating, demeaning, to be taken in that manner,” he said.
Kidnappings in the border town have decreased, but young doctors still prefer to stay away. Coupled with the scarcity of professionals are shortages of supplies.
“It is a matter of fear and low budgets,” said Cisneros. “How am I to hire an oncologist with a 7,000-peso (US $372) monthly salary. It’s irrational.”
In the city of Reynosa, the climate of fear remains even if the worst might be over. “Doctors have been robbed and raped, we deal with many things,” said the director of the city’s general hospital.
For the state’s Doctors Without Borders representative, Érika Romano, the challenge for physicians in Tamaulipas is to care efficiently for kidnapping victims, witnesses of violence and the relatives of the missing, despite the lack of human resources.
Romano offered the example of the Miguel Aleman and La Ribereña regions, where no doctors want to work. “Many colleagues have gone to take care of a patient, only to see them shot to death.”