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Revista médica de Chile

Print version ISSN 0034-9887


GOIC G, Alejandro. The Chilean Health Care System: The task ahead. Rev. méd. Chile [online]. 2015, vol.143, n.6, pp.774-786. ISSN 0034-9887.

The most important event in Chilean public health in the XXth Century was the creation of the National Health Service (NHS), in 1952. Systematic public policies for the promotion of health, disease prevention, medical care, and rehabilitation were implemented, while a number of more specific programs were introduced, such as those on infant malnutrition, complementary infant feeding, medical control of pregnant women and healthy infants, infant and adult vaccination, and essential sanitation services. In 1981, a parallel private health care system was introduced in the form of medical care financial institutions, which today cover 15% of the population, as contrasted with the public system, which covers about 80%. From 1952 to 2014, public health care policies made possible a remarkable improvement in Chile's health indexes: downward trends in infant mortality rate (from 117.8 to 7.2 x 1,000 live births), maternal mortality (from 276 to 18.5 x 100,000),  undernourished children < 5 years old (from 63% to 0.5%); and upward trends in life expectancy at birth (from 50 to 79,8 years), professional hospital care of births (from 35% to 99.8%), access to drinking water (from 52% to 99%), and access to sanitary sewer (from 21% to 98.9%). This went hand in hand with an improvement in economic and social indexes: per capita income at purchasing power parity increased from US$ 3,827 to US$ 20,894 and poverty decreased from 60% to 14.4% of the population. Related indexes such as illiteracy, average schooling, and years of primary school education, were significantly improved as well. Nevertheless, compared with OECD countries, Chile has a relatively low public investment in health (45.7% of total national investment), a deficit in the number of physicians (1.7 x 1,000 inhabitants) and nurses (4.8 x 1,000), in the number of hospital beds (2.1 x 1,000), and in the availability of generic drugs in the market (30%). Chile and the USA are the two OECD countries with the lowest public investment in health. A generalized dissatisfaction with the current Chilean health care model and the need of the vast majority of the population for timely access to acceptable quality medical care are powerful arguments which point to the need for a universal public health care system. The significant increase in public expenditure on health care which such a system would demand requires a sustainable growth of the Chilean economy.

Keywords : Chile; Economic Development; Infant Mortality; Infant Nutrition Disorders; Life expectancy; Maternal Mortality; National Health Service; Public Health.

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