Argentina Faces Medical Crisis

With banks remaining closed for the 19th day, the Argentine President ,Eduardo Duhalde, declared a national medical emergency due to a shortage in medications such as insulin, local news agencies reported.

The Foreign Minister, Carlos Ruckauf , returned from Brazil yesterday with 275,000 doses of insulin donated by the Brazilian Government, the first instalment of a larger donation.The Presidential spokesman , Eduardo Amadeo , said that Duhalde, a populist Peronist, had appointed Juan Pablo Cafiero, a centre left politician, as interim Social Affairs Minister to “take all necessary measures to ensure that products are available”.

Argentine laboratories have stopped producing medicines until they know how much they must mark up their prices to compensate for the 30 per cent currency devaluation approved on Sunday. The decline in insulin availability was felt some weeks ago, and a private group, Red Solidarity, has had been distributing the medicine free in Buenos Aires.

Uncertainty over the currency values persisted as banks remained closed yesterday. The government has uncoupled the peso from its 1-to-1 exchange rate with the U.S. dollar, and imposed a value of 1.4 pesos to the dollar for foreign trading. It will allow the value to float in domestic trading, expected to begin today. The stock market also remained shut down yesterday. While the government said it expects the domestic rate to trade about the same level as the official foreign rate of 1.4 pesos to the dollar, black market exchange rates were already climbing higher than 1.4, reports said yesterday.

Market experts said that in all likelihood the exchange rate will skyrocket as there will be great demand for dollars from anxiety-plagued citizens. In New York, J.P. Morgan Chase Bank said it anticipated the peso would fall to 2.7 to the dollar by the end of 2002.

[Source: The Hindu, January 11, 2002.]

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