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Health and the Economy: Measles, ASEM, and the Elections

By Guest Contributor , on 24 April 2016

The following blog post speaks to current public dissatisfaction and critique. This critique points to the sense many people feel that the current economic climate is very dire and is having a real impact on day-to-day life. Access to health care is increasingly economically restrictive as money is being spent on the beautification of the city for the up-coming Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM); there is talk of election promises rather than focusing on doing things now; and there are shows of bravado police politics while not protecting the health of society’s most vulnerable citizens. This news article by journalist Kh. Uyanga captures well the way many feel the economy and politics is spiraling away from the everyday concerns of individuals. A version of the following post appeared in an online blog called UBLife. Kh Uyunga has kindly written a more comprehensive version for this post.

 

By Kh. Uyanga, on 19 April 2016

Translation: Sh. Nomindari

‘Screw Battulga, ASEM, & the Elections! Aren’t they less sorrowful than the tears of a mother who lost her baby to measles, aren’t they less worthy than human life?!’ A young woman tweeted this post recently on twitter. Her post hit me right away. It summed up perfectly what I was thinking; I keep noticing on social network sites the mounting infant mortalities caused by measles and was thinking to voice it to the government who cares nothing about it. Since I ran into this bitter post written by one mother on “the mothers’ group” on Facebook last week, her words remained stuck in my throat, leaving me unable to speak them outloud.

‘I am giving away these 102 diapers that I have left for my baby’, the young mother’s tearful words go on…This woman lost her baby to measles. A haunting fear for mothers, measles has become a taboo word now. It was hard to even read the post that mother wrote. Nobody can feel what that mother feels. Who could believe that she lost her baby? The baby who was sleeping serenely in the arms of his mom just a couple of days ago, who was shining with the laughter he has just learnt, who couldn’t even drink enough of his mom’s milk. A strong sense of desperation due to the economic and political climate in Mongolia dominates her post, even though she doesn’t want to blame the government. According to her, the rooms of the National Centre for the Studies of Infectious Diseases (NCSID) were full to the brim, making them resemble the field sites of a conflict zone or refugee camps.

Although officials affirm that the health budget of 86 billion tögrögs has been increased by 13 billion tögrögs compared to last year, in reality, the majority of patients complain about the paucity of medical conditions due to the economic crisis. There is an inevitable need to get medical treatments from abroad for the Intensive Treatment Department of the NCSID that works on emergency cases. The sole hope for saving the infants struggling against death is an immunostimulant vaccination called ‘Globulin’. But this vaccination is very rare these days. Some parents even had to buy it with 200 thousand to 300 thousand tögrögs from the street peddlers [a value of about USD$100-150]. This amounts to half a monthly wage for the average Mongolian. Due to this cost, many parents are unable to buy the vaccination.

Photo courtesy of UBLife: http://www.ub.life/society/11/211

Sign reads, MEASLES.  Photo courtesy of UBLife: http://www.ub.life/society/11/211

 

Hiding behind their status as a ‘special entity’, the NCSID doesn’t give any official statistics related to the spread of measles and the issue remains closed to the mass media. But when you go through the first quarter report on the socio-economic situation of Mongolia by the National Statistics and Registration Office, you’ll face some disturbing figures.

At a national level, as of the first quarter of 2016, infant mortality reached 427, with an increase of 33%, or 106 deaths compared to the same period of last year. And child mortality has risen to 491, an increase of 32,3%, or 120 deaths compared to the same period of 2015. Now let’s take a look at the situation only for March from this statistics. For the last month, 183 infants died, indicating a rise of 67,9%; 204 children under 5 year-old lost their lives, pointing out an increase of 63,2% compared to the same period last year. That would indicate an increase of morbidity of 60-70%…

The statistics do not mention the reason for the sudden and drastic increase of infant mortality. However, it is written in black on white, indicating the raise of the patients with infectious diseases to 25,355 people, being multiplied with 2,8 points, including the 15,540 patients of measles. As the mortality of non-infectious diseases doesn’t increase with such speed, one can only deduct that the main reason for infant mortalities increasing at such speed is due to measles.

This is the situation. But I wonder if there is someone who cares about it in the government? Since the health sector is ‘abandoned’, no one talks about the situation. In fact, it appears to me that for the government, it is more important to figure out a way for them to sustain their quarrels and raise funds for the election, rather than find a solution to eradicate the disease that is causing the death of babies.

Let me not ask for the protection of human life from the Health Minister Ts. Oyuunbaatar, who has held the position for six months. Let me ask a question on behalf of the mothers who are suffering from anxiety and fear: it’s been over a year since the measles outbreak, if you can’t stop it, why can’t you at least control it? Why?

 

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