At the end of March, radios in France broadcast a public call for donations to help finance the hospitals struggling to treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients in the country. The appeal said that all of these donations would be “tax deductible,” but did not explain why the French state, the world’s sixth economic power, needs the generosity of individuals to adequately fund the country’s health system for a pandemic.
Shortly after this call, we were informed that our hospitals desperately need not only money but protective equipment, including the most basic items such as masks and gloves. We have seen shocking images of nurses trying to treat patients by wearing garbage bags and swimming goggles for protection. The shortage was so severe that some hospitals felt the need to appeal to members of the public send any protective gear they may have.
The situation is even worse in French overseas departments like Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana, where the government is forced to accept the help of Cuban doctors in the fight against coronaviruses in these territories. For Reunion, the best the French state could do was deliver a bunch of moldy masks.
Many were shocked to see that France, a country renowned for its strong social security system, did not respond effectively to this public health emergency. However, the French health system was in trouble long before the start of this pandemic. Last December, for example, 22 babies infected with bronchiolitis in Paris had to be transferred to Rouen, Amiens, Caen or Reims, because the emergency pediatric services in the capital were too busy to deal with them.
So how exactly does a country that has been hailed by American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore as a ” health paradise«In the 2007 film Sicko finds himself in this situation?
No magic money for health or research
In 2019, France experienced one of the longest and most widespread strikes in its recent history in response to the changes that President Emmanuel Macron has proposed to make to the pension system. Hospital workers also attended these protests, not only to protect their pensions but also to demand better working conditions and funding. During these demonstrations, some even carried banners on which was written ” the state counts the money, we will count the dead“, But the government has chosen to ignore their plight.
A year earlier, when President Macron went to the Rouen university hospital to promote his government’s autism plan, a caregiver told him in front of television cameras that the number of beds and services available in the country was decreasing daily and the health system was urgent. needs more money and more staff. Macron quickly ended the conversation, saying that “there is no magic money” to give to hospitals.
In the same year, a collective of researchers met the president and asked for five million euros to maintain 50 jobs in the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Macron chose not to provide this relatively small funding to the organization that would lead research on cures and vaccines in the face of major epidemics, such as the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.
The fact that repeated calls by health professionals and researchers for more funds fell on deaf ears did not surprise anyone who had followed Macron’s political career.
Macron was Minister of the Economy under President François Hollande and was tasked with implementing his controversial labor reform that has brought thousands of French citizens to the streets to defend their most basic rights.
During his presidential campaign, he presented himself as the candidate for “change” and won a resounding victory against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. However, once he took over the presidency, he forgot his promise to bring about “change” and only followed the neoliberal policies of his predecessors. Without hesitation in providing controversial tax breaks to the rich, he focused on saving money by weakening the welfare state and reducing benefits for citizens.
While Macron’s austerity-driven neoliberal agenda has undoubtedly contributed to the deterioration of the social security system in France, the dismantling of the country’s public health services began decades ago. In 1983, the government of Socialist President François Mitterrand decided to follow strict austerity policies for the first time, which was contrary to the fundamental values of the Socialist Party. Since then, consecutive governments have pushed France further into austerity, exposing the health care system and leaving the country helpless against threats to public health such as pandemics.
According to According to French economist Thomas Porcher, French hospitals have lost a total of 70,000 beds in the past 15 years due to these austerity policies, with 4,200 beds lost in 2018 alone. Last year, a third of the land in the oldest hospital in Paris, the Hôtel Dieu, was sold to a property developer, who plans to transform these historic buildings into shops and restaurants.
Following decades of policies that have valued profit over life, the French healthcare system is today in such poor condition that the head of the emergency department at the prestigious Pompidou hospital in Paris, Philippe Juvin, who is also a member of the Right-wing Republican Party recently had to admit this “In terms of health, France is underdeveloped”.
France’s social security system once envied the world. But today, although one of the richest countries in the world, France is struggling to provide adequate health care to its citizens during a global pandemic.
Macron, like his predecessors, runs France like a profit-oriented enterprise and nothing else, ignoring the principles of equality, brotherhood and solidarity that are at the heart of our national identity.
But, as the coronavirus pandemic has unfortunately proven, healthcare is not a business and cannot be treated as such. The cuts to this essential public service not only cost lives, but also undermine the fundamental values that the French Republic claims. The choices that have been made over the past decade have slowly but surely dismantled what made our country so proud.
As French healthcare professionals continue their fight against this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands of French people, our government must immediately change course and start repairing the mistakes they have made for decades. If they do not act quickly, the days when France was known and praised as a welfare state that values the health and well-being of its citizens will be a distant memory.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.