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Health Sector under Attack by Predatory Private Sector in Epidemic


In its ongoing campaign against the universal health care system and in favour of the private, commercial interests, the Press has recently reached an all-time low. 

Right in the middle of the second wave of the Covid epidemic, L’Express (13 July) publishes a banner headline at the top of its tribune page that reads, Covid-19: It’s not the virus: frontliners are the killers. This is something the Press just cannot do. During an epidemic, you do not run a title accusing those looking after the sick of being “killers”. What effect do L’Express intend to have? To cause the collapse of the universal health care system? What went through the minds of the editors to publish this?

The article includes a photo of the ENT hospital where serious Covid patients are treated captioned The Covid ward at the ENT hospital has almost become a death row. Killers now executioners?

The L’Express publishes the following enormities about health care workers:

- “Their attitude can be likened to the executioner sending innocent people to the gallows”

- “Mauritius healthcare system ... similar to a ‘couloir de la mort’”

- “Some of our country’s frontliners are killing people”. 

- “The senseless deaths of Covid patients”

- “ ... almost become a death row.”

- In Mauritius many ... [Staff] “rush to ‘work’ at the Covid ward at the ENT because of incentives such as the big fat salary”.

- “Some of the personnel having worked in the Covid ward ... have blood on their hands”

- And even a quote from Lady Macbeth: “Here’s the smell of blood still. All perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten ‘your little hands’!” 

- “criminals” 

- “wolves hiding in sheep’s clothing”

- “cowards not to say criminals”.

That bereaved family members might lash out in their sorrow is one thing. That during an epidemic a reputable Press empire publish such an article is another thing. It is totally unacceptable.

What is L’Express trying to accomplish by this? After repeatedly giving space to anti-vaccination propaganda and giving space for medical practitioners to tout commercial medicines instead, now this?

It must be noted that we have a history of Press empires being part of the nexus of the business of private profit-making medicine. There was the notorious BAI trio of the Insurance Company, Apollo Clinic plus Defimedia. The more “hospital scandal stories” published, the more insurance money and clinic money raked in. Simple as a commercial strategy. Mortally dangerous for the rest of us. Simply because it attacks what cares for us all. 

We, at the same time, have an MSM-ML-ex-MMM government that has been desperately trying to hand the totality of the civil service and parastatal staff on a plate to an “insurance-clinics” nexus. Fortunately trade unions have so far prevented this second potentially mortal attack on the universal health service.  

But, let us look at L’Express. At the end of June, it gave out a 100-page supplement free in L’Express newspaper. On its glossy cover, under a picture of a stethoscope, it says, curiously, that it is a Supplement of Business Magazine. Whatever the strict paternity, it was spread by L’Express.

The supplement is called “La Santé: Ou se faire soigner à Maurice”.  So, in answer to where to get treatment, here is the thing: The Supplement is 97% about private, commercial health care and a mere 3% about government-provided free services. In LALIT, we did a page-by-page check. You can too. So that is where, we assume they think the place “ou se faire soigner” is. 

In one of the few actual articles in this book of mainly paid advertisements, it is conceded that “73% of all health services” are provided by the Government and only “27% by the private sector”. 

We would estimate that accurate figures would likely be higher for Government-provided services, and lower for private-sector provided – unless the calculations include hair implants for balding men, wrinkle-straightening for tourists, aesthetic surgery for the vain, all manner of over-the-counter pharmacy sales of dubious medicines, non-medicines and cosmetics. These figures come from the vague wording of Statistics Mauritius (2018):  “Around 73% of the healthcare needs of the population are managed, free of any user cost, at the point of use, in the public sector. The remaining 27% of healthcare needs are dealt with in the private sector, on a fee basis, either through out-of-pocket payments, including deductibles or payments effected by private health insurers” (Our italics, for emphasis of the vagueness). How one could add up “health care needs” and get figures makes the mind boggle. And, it is not even clear if the Rodrigues and Agalega facilities, where there is no real private sector at all, are included in the statistic.

But, the point is that while the Government offers three-quarters of the services, these get 3% of the L’Express supplement about where people should go for care. The supplement is 97% about the other quarter offered by the private sector. There is no warning about the notorious small-print in all health insurance costs. Nor about the shocking pricing systems that clinics routinely use. Nor about their lack of cover, often masked in their wording, during epidemics. 

And the L’Express is not interested in informing the public by means of this Supplement on what is available in the line of “soins”, but rather in making money out of advertisers, who in turn make money out of readers. And all this money-making is on the back of what? Of our misery. The sicker we are, the more uncomfortable we are with the government health services, or even the more we suffer anxiety about our own appearance, the more money they will make out of our illness and anxiety. And the more we turn away from government services, which feature 3% in the supplement, the more these services will risk decline. And that is precisely the aim of the supplement: to shift capital into the “growing”, “innovative”, “high tech”, private sector, where bucks can be made.

And to clinch our argument “General Government Health Expenditure” was Rs12.04 billion, with which it provides 73% of all services, while “Private Health Expenditure” was Rs 13.87 billion, that is 15% more money for providing only 27% of health services! Very inefficient, this private sector. And very dangerous that the L’Express supplement should inform the public 97% about private health goods and services up for sale, and only 3% on Government services provided free. That says it all.  

The 3% of column inches on public health care is literally a list of hospitals and community health centres, with some of the Vaccine Centres – and includes no reference to Rodrigues or Agalega. 

There is space for a disclaimer: “This Publication is a general reference work. It has been prepared in good faith by our researchers and with the assistance of numerous organizations and individuals. However Business Publications Ltd is not responsible for errors or damages of any kind resulting from access to its resources or use of the information contained therein.” You would think that was enough of a disclaimer. But, it goes on: “Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of information presented as factual [clearly there is other information in the Supplement that is not ‘presented as factual’], however, errors may exist. Business Publications Ltd makes no representations, gives no warranty and disclaims all liability in respect thereof and shall not be liable for any damage resulting from any error in the information or for any use of the said information.”

So, any harm caused by the L’Express supplement is not their fault. Of course, it is their fault.

They cannot even pretend that the article on health workers being “killers” and “executioners” with “blood on their hands” is not their fault. They published it. So, it is.

It is certainly not enough to put in small print, “Les opinions qui s’expriment librement dans ces pages ne sont pas nécesairment celles de La Sentinelle Ltd.” Just as you cannot print racism under the pretext of the “free expression”, so you cannot print lies on vaccines during an epidemic nor this kind of scandalous attack on the very front-line workers who, under extremely difficult circumstances, are caring for the sick during an epidemic. This is truly a low ebb in editorial morality. We in LALIT believe that Mr. Philippe Forget and Mr. Nad Sivaramen, as executive Chairman and Editor, owe an apology to staff at the ENT Covid treatment centre.