Bulgaria's Health Care - Laughter through Tears

Editorial |Author: Maria Guineva | April 16, 2010, Friday // 18:24|  views

After the flopped nomination of Rumiana Jeleva for EU Commissioner, Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, pulled another brilliant candidate out of his sleeve – his contender to become Health Head - Prof. Anna-Maria Borisova.

The woman, who aspires to succeed where many have failed, more than eagerly joined the race of who is going to become the laughing stock of our very own mix of “The Funniest Home Videos,” and “Bulgaria Got Talent.”

Borisova was tagged as Health Minister by Borisov (no family ties though) on April 7. The PM motivated his decision with the fact that the Endocrinology Professor is known to be hard to communicate with and has a difficult personality.

Willing to live up to the above description, Borisova, gave the following responses to a crowd of journalists, following her at the 9th National Endocrinal Congress in Plovdiv:

Q: Is it true that you have given up your new post?

A: I will only smile.

Q: Tell us, are you ready to take up this post?

A: I am smiling. Did you take a picture of my smile?

Q: Do you believe that this is a tough task, what a health minister should do?

A: I am only smiling.

Q: Don't you have an opinion on this issue?

A: I am not pretty, but I am charming for my age and enjoy smiling. You are very nice.

Q: Could you please sum up the latest data for osteoporosis and how serious the situation in Bulgaria is?

A: I am just smiling.

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister loves to brag that he rather rely on experts than politicians. (The ousted Health Minister, Bozhidar Nanev, was an expert, but nevertheless, according to Borisov’s own assessment, failed.) As we can see from the above, the new Minister-hopeful is definitely not a politician. In her scarce (2) media appearances since her nomination, Borisova has been so hostile and unforthcoming that she already managed to make journalists her enemies. No real politician would dare to even think about such attitude, especially when the road ahead is as treacherous and filled with traps as is the Bulgarian health care system.

Considering the behavior of our Prime Minister, it may be refreshing to many to see someone from the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) cabinet shy away from the media spotlight… Actually, a Health Minister who is not a politician and not a self-promoter would be fine, if she is, indeed, an expert. But Borisova's media reaction is so inadequate and non-adept that it raises questions about her management skills and ability to carry out the thorny and so much needed health care reform.

Unlike Nanev, who, before becoming Minister, was the Chair of the Bulgarian Doctor’s Union, the new Health Minister-to-be is widely unknown in Bulgaria's medical circles. The Doctors' College in Sofia said on the day of the nomination that they do not know who she is and doubt her candidature will pass in plenary hall. The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Right and Freedoms (DPS) already declared that they would not support the nomination in the Parliament. The MPs from the right-wing Blue Coalition also retracted their tentative support with the motive that by refusing to publicly declare her program, Borisova sends signals that she is hesitant and does not know what to do.

Upon conclusion of the meeting of the GERB parliamentary group, which Borisova attended to present her program and priorities, insiders said off the record that her presentation had not received a positive assessment, failed to impress the participants, and stirred a heated discussion. The GERB group co-Chair, Krasimir Velchev, hinted Borisova might decide to withdraw.

The nomination was not voted in the Parliament this week, but the party keeps reiterating their official position of standing firm behind the Premier's choice. So does Borisov who declared the Professor his one and only candidate in an attempt to dissipate rumors that GERB MPs are split.

Sacking a nomination, which stirred so much negativity and ridicule before even being voted by the Parliament, seems the one logical move Borisov should undertake. Certainly, in comparison to EU Commissioner-hopeful, Rumiana Jeleva, whose pathetic performance during her January 12 hearing in the European Parliament, received a failing grade on both integrity and competence, the embarrassment will only be local this time, but there isn’t a poised Kristalina Gergieva to come forward, and with a spectacular demonstration of knowledge and brains, erase the shame. Such strong card Borisov can play only once.

What is most important here, however, is the fact that this is literally a question of life and death – Bulgaria’s health care is in shambles, with severe shortages of medical personnel and medications, obsolete equipment, deplorable hospitals, low pay for family practitioners where money is given to doctors under the table.

Here is my personal experience: recently my father had to undergo emergency surgery for a broken hip. On paper he had full health coverage, but I was asked to pay BGN 1 500 for the piece of metal to be used and was told that they will not operate unless I present bank proof that I had made the deposit. I was also asked to provide two banks of blood for eventual transfusion. I am anemic, for one reason or another people from my closest circle could not give blood either, so I had to pay BGN 100 to strangers, hanging outside the blood donation center. I further had to provide all supplies such as pampers, napkins and wet towels; was charged some hospital stay fee that was not covered, paid BGN 200 for shots and hired a private ambulance to take my father home. I discovered later that I could not apply with the National Health Insurance Fund for a free wheelchair because upon releasing my father from the hospital the doctor had written: “elderly man in apparent good health.” Needles to say the injury never resolved or to mention the dreadful hospital room and the nurse, who kept whispering in my year that she would make sure my father is OK if I give her BGN 20.

There isn’t a Health Minster in Bulgaria, during the so-called transition period, who had served until the end of their term…

Indeed, maybe only someone not “in their right mind” would agree to accept such nomination, which seems to be our latest case.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad…

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Tags: swine flu, Nikolay Kokinov, Bozhidar Nanev, tamiflu, Boyko Borisov, Anna-Maria Borisova, health minister, Blue Coalition, Vanyo Sharkov


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