October 19, 2021

Ukraine Breaking News

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Patients languish as health centers focus on coronavirus

ERDENET, ORKHON PROVINCE, MONGOLIA – As Bayarmaa Badarch sits in the hospital waiting room, she has more in mind than just an ultrasound appointment. He usually receives free and regular checkups at his local family health center. But his family practice’s ultrasound equipment is broken. And due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, his doctor hasn’t been able to get it repaired or replaced.

This has forced Bayarmaa, six months pregnant, to go to a private hospital, where she does not know the doctor and the treatments are expensive. For her ultrasound, Bayarmaa will have to pay 45,000 Mongolian togrogs (about $ 16). Average monthly income in Mongolia is around 1,343,428 togrog ($ 510), according to 2019 data from the National Statistics Office.

It’s a frustrating situation, but Bayarmaa says she has no choice. “There is no other option than this to give birth to a healthy baby,” she says.

Family health centers form the basis of the Mongolian health system, providing medical assistance to 70% of the population. About 2.4 million people rely on primary health care centers, and Mongols pay monthly health insurance contributions that entitle them to free treatment.

But because of the pandemic, family health centers are strained beyond capacity. “We are dedicating most of our annual budget to fighting the coronavirus,” says Oyungerel Sanduijav, a doctor who works at a family health center in Erdenet, the capital of Orkhon province in northern Mongolia. As a result, he says, they have not been able to repair or replace the broken equipment, or perform certain diagnostic tests and examinations.

His center ran out of its entire annual supply of medicines to treat anxiety, hypertension and heart pain in just three months, he says, because patients experienced high levels of these conditions when they were tested or vaccinated.

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Khorloo Khukhnokhoi, YPG Mongolia

Nasanbuyan Demberelkhuu’s documents show he has been paying health insurance premiums for the past two decades, but says he hasn’t been able to get the medical care he needs.

The problem is national, says Khajidmaa Shagdarkhuu, executive director of the Mongolian Association of Family Medicine Specialists.

“Family health centers are working at full capacity, but some services are failing due to a lack of budget,” says Khajidmaa. “This is a problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.”

Patients have also become frustrated with their inability to access routine care. “There seem to be no other diseases except coronavirus,” says Altantsetseg Batnasan, a resident of Orkhon province.

Nasanbuyan Demberelkhuu, who also lives in Orkhon province, says he was unable to get a simple urine test to check the health of his kidneys. “I live without being able to enjoy my right to medical services, even though I have paid my health insurance costs monthly,” he says.

And Ulam-Orgikh Tserendorj, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy two years ago, says he needs physical therapy every two weeks to combat his ongoing headaches. But he hasn’t been able to get an appointment for the past seven months.

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“When I go to the family hospital, they say that the therapy would not have been done because the apparatus is broken,” says Ulam-Orgikh. “They said they would call me once therapy was available. I don’t know how long I’ll have to wait. “

Oyungerel says the government’s focus on the coronavirus pandemic has come at the expense of patients and staff. “If they fix everything at the same time, it will be easier for us doctors to do our jobs,” he says.

Government officials recognize the challenges medical service providers face and say they are working to address the issues, but refuse to offer specific details.

“We met with family health centers and got acquainted with the situation,” says Batsukh Buyantogtokh, head of the health policy and implementation coordination department at the Ministry of Health. “We are working to solve the problems. This is not an easy problem to solve. It will take some time to completely resolve. “

Meanwhile, Khajidmaa, from the Mongolian Association of Family Medicine Specialists, says doctors and nurses will continue to push the government to provide funding for care and equipment, as well as raise the salaries of health workers in family health centers.

“We will fight,” he says, “until we have completely solved these problems.”


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