Dozens of doctors took to the streets of downtown Buenos Aires on Wednesday to demand better wages and greater availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic.
Medics wore their traditional white coats and facemasks as they descended on the Obelisk, blocking lanes on Avenida 9 de Julio and demonstrating on the plaza next to the iconic City landmark. Some arrived with cars and taxis, briefly disrupting traffic.
"There is job insecurity, unworthy salaries and a lack of sufficient Covid-19 protective equipment," said Marcelo Userpater, a 56-year-old nephrologist.
The demonstrators put their demands on posters and banners. One sign protested against salary cuts and layoffs. Many included calls for private healthcare companies to pay more for consultations – they currently pay between 200 and 400 pesos (roughly US$3-6 at the official exchange rate) per visit.
The doctors said they had also been motivated to rally after a legal case was initiated against healthcare professionals at a nursing home in Córdoba Province, after residents became infected.
"We are not heroes, nor are we murderers," said Ana Pernas, a 45-year-old paediatric surgeon.
Pernas said those working in the healthcare system needed more support, arguing that there was a contradiction between the applause that rings out for healthcare professionals each night at 9pm and the criminal actions brought that saw doctors hauled before the courts.
Since the pandemic began, around 800 healthcare professionals have been infected with Covid-19, with more than a dozen deaths.
As of Wednesday, there have been 13,000 confirmed cases in Argentina, with 492 fatalities recorded and 4,300 patients classified as “recovered.” More than 80 percent of all cases are centred on Buenos Aires City and its surrounding.
"There are protective elements that are not coming or are late. There are intensive care rooms that have had to be closed due to infections," Userpater said.
"Our vocation and humanism is to never put the life of a patient or a colleague at risk. If we are treating an asymptomatic person who has not been tested, they cannot blame us for transmitting the virus," said Pernas.
Protecting against the virus is difficult too as healthcare professionals often work at multiple locations.
"Transmission chains have been observed in different [medical] institutions, and this can be explained because health teams work in more than one place,” Deputy Health Minister Carla Vizzotti said at a recent press conference.
Many medical professionals "go from one place to another, from public hospitals to private clinics, have three or four jobs, from Monday to Saturday, to collect salaries or contracts that are not worthy of them," said Userpater.
Congress has just approved a tax exemption for the wages of healthcare staff, but the doctor says this won’t be enough. "Job insecurity has dragged on for many years," Userpater said.