Karolina Koval, Fudan University, China - special for InfoBRICS
BRICS is becoming increasingly attractive to many countries in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Many experts see BRICS as one of the centers of the emerging multipolar world, free from the global hegemony of the West. The current members of the association support the idea of expansion, but at the same time recognize that it will not be fast.
Interview with Laura Torres, ex-researcher at the Center for BRICS Studies in Shanghai. Currently, she is Head of the Evidence and Risk Management Department and coordinates the management of the bacteriological and physicochemical quality of water; and emergency response programs, within the Health Department of Baja California, Mexico (email@example.com)
- Laura, you are Brazilian, studied and interned in China, and now you work in Mexico. You have a very interesting life and career path. Based on your experience, please tell me how different are the healthcare systems in Brazil, China, and Mexico? Is there something unifying?
Laura: - In Brazil, the public healthcare system is based on universal coverage, funded by federal government resources. This system is named SUS, which means Unified Healthcare System and technically it covers 100% of the population. To get access to public health services, users just need to do a self-registration, and the attention is free of charge. The healthcare services provided by SUS go from primary to high-complexity attention, it includes emergency attention and hospitalization. There is also a component that provides free medicine, a similar practice is also carried out in Mexico.
In China, their public health system is near-universal coverage, as health services are provided almost fully covered by public funds, and it is complemented by private participation (either paid by users or companies).
As for Mexico, its scheme is combined with public and private providers. As public officials have access to their own health scheme (for example, ISSSTE which stands for Social Services and Security Institute for state workers); and workers within the formal labor market also have their own system called IMSS, which stands for Mexican Social Security Institute. Systems like ISSSTE and IMSS are funded mainly by workers' contributions. These networks provide a range of healthcare services, including primary and high-complexity attention. If you are an individual out of these networks you may receive attention at family health centers or hospitals that are funded by federal or state resources, depending on the country's region, the level of attention may be limited to primary services.
I believe the unifying factor is that in all of these countries there are governmental initiatives to governments are willing to strengthen their public healthcare systems into universal coverage and publicly funded schemes. Considering that it is established in their legal frameworks that access to health is a Constitutional right.
- In Mexico, many medicines are derived from native Mexican "representatives" of the plant world: black beans, corn and agave. In the Center of Biotechnology of the Monterrey Institute of Technology, in the north of Mexico, studies were conducted on the effectiveness of natural medicines. The positive results of the long-term work of 100 scientists from Mexico and other Latin American countries became possible due to the isolation of substances from agave, beans, sorghum, cauliflower corn and mahuacata shrub that prevent the development of carcinogenic cells, Director of the Institute Moises Alvarez said at a press conference. He also said that drugs intended for the treatment of breast, colon, prostate and liver cancers have been tested and are awaiting approval for their sale in Mexico and the United States, possibly this will happen at the end of this year or early next year. Tell me, please, what is the government's attitude to the use of such methods of treatment? Are there already collaborations in hospitals? In previous interviews, we talked about Chinese medicine, where traditional and non-traditional methods have long been well combined. It seems to me that it would be great for countries to share their experience with each other in the most vital area.
- Mexico has a tradition in the use of herbal-based medicine. I'm aware that in the medical career they have a discipline that studies the use of such treatments, as well as the Mexican research funding agency has given grants and supports projects that study these natural medicines. Also, I've read that in the so-called "Family Health Centers" there is a high rate of doctors that recommend the use of natural medicines. There is support from the government in the use of such methods, especially in primary care attention, it is reasoned by their legal framework as well as the knowledge and customs of their native population. I'm not aware of any cooperation between Chinese traditional medicine and Mexican traditional medicine methods, but I believe it would indeed be an interesting thing to see!
- The head of the Secretariat for Health Promotion and Prevention, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, said that although the coronavirus "is not going to disappear," but it's time to "get away from the state of the pandemic." In Mexico, the coronavirus will now be considered the same endemic virus as all other widespread viruses. What special methods did the Mexican Government use to combat the pandemic? What difficulties have you encountered and how did you manage to overcome them?
- There were several protocols implemented during the hardest times of the pandemic. The main measures were to keep all workers from non-essential services at home. Those from essential areas, such as healthcare attention, had to apply measures such as keeping a safe distance (1.5 meters) from other people, constantly disinfecting surfaces, constantly washing hands, the use of facial masks and protective glasses, guaranteeing the ventilation of closed spaces, keeping track of workers' temperature and any signs of COVID-19 symptoms.
There were also other measures such as, not allowing people to dine in restaurants, only take-away services allowed; schools were also working remotely; also, and no massive events were allowed. These measures were only eased when vaccinations against COVID-19 started.
Gradually, 50% of restaurants and other public places could be used, then 75%, until we reached a level where 100% of these public spaces could be used due to the decrease of active COVID-19 cases; then public events were also allowed with a limited number of participants, and always having in mind the need to comply with measures such as safe distance, washing hands, face masks, and so on. The hardest part was the new variants and new waves, because sometimes when measures were already on the path to being eased, they had to get strict again, and it was hard to make citizens comply with this instability in the sanitary policies.
- Due to sanctions, Western countries have stopped supplying many medicines to Russia. Are there any prospects for the supply of Mexican drugs and how does Mexico view cooperation with Russia in the field of healthcare?
- Mexico is among the countries with high production of medical drugs, but there is also a struggle to keep up with their production chains. Because of the COVID-19 affectations on international trade, there are some difficulties to acquire raw materials and chemicals that are necessary for the production of these drugs. Even in the Mexican internal market, there is a drug shortage going on.
Although there was a lot of international pressure, the Mexican government reaffirmed its non-intervention principle and decided to sustain economic and political relations with Russia. The president of Mexico announced that no sanctions are to be imposed against Russia, especially in a field so important as the health sector. Russia and Mexico signed an agreement to strengthen the production of the Sputnik V vaccine last march, so I believe both countries have good prospects for their cooperation in the healthcare field.
- Mexico always stands for the promotion of peace and security both in the region and in the world as a whole. Brazilian expert Emir Sader suggested that the third decade of the new century will be crucial for determining the future of humanity. According to him, the confrontation between the forces of multipolarity and the United States will lead to a future where the BRICS countries will play a decisive role in the world. Laura, you worked in the BRICS laboratory and also did research. Do you agree with Emir Sader? How do you see the future of BRICS and Mexico's place in it? What keys should we find to develop closer cooperation in the field of medicine?
- I agree with his view. I believe, even though COVID-19 made Latin America give a huge step back in terms of social development, Latin American and other developing countries are still striving to play a decisive role in the world. For our future, it is necessary that our countries, and BRICS partners gather together and provide development assistance among themselves. Our social, political, and economic characteristics are similar in so many aspects, and we have a lot to learn from each other's best practices.
In the field of medicine, we should also cooperate to improve a unified system to give notice of our regional disease outbreaks and strengthen our technical and production capacity to develop medicines and vaccines within the region. Particularly, modernizing our regulations in order to work within a framework that does not goes against a sustainable and healthy way of living.
I could write a whole article about how we should develop closer cooperation; this is the real key, we really need the commitment of our representatives to build these relations and facilitate the exchange of technical capacities, people, goods, and services; at the same time update our regulations and promote innovations based on sustainable practices. And doing so to ensure that our populations have good health and well-being, under the framework of One Health, which considers the interdependence of human, environmental and animal health.
- The last question for all our heroes: what is BRICS for you and who are you in it?
- BRICS for me is friendship. I am very grateful for the circle of friends the BRICS platforms allowed me to create. Also, to learn more about our country's social and cultural characteristics, and contribute to our country's development because we can exchange ideas and our national best practices. The development assistance given by developing countries has a better perspective on how to develop capacities, with an investor view rather than a savior approach. Being a BRICS member, I'm all into cooperating to enhance our knowledge of each other policies and work to promote our shared areas of opportunity.