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Hundreds of thousands protest in Madrid against cuts to public health

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Health workers, holding banners, gather to demonstrate against health sector privatization, a staffing shortage, and difficult working conditions at Cibeles Square in Madrid, Spain on November 13, 2022. (Burak Akbulut - Anadolu Agency)
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Nov 15, 2022 - 12:40 AM

OVIEDO, Spain (AA) – Hundreds of thousands of protesters choked central Madrid on Sunday in support of the region’s public healthcare services.

Organizers say 670,000 people took to the streets, while the government estimates that around 200,000 protestors showed up.

Under the motto “Madrid rises up to defend public health,” residents of the region of Madrid expressed their outrage over the conservative government’s cuts and plans for public healthcare in the region.

For nearly a week, doctors working at Madrid’s 24-hour clinics have been on strike to denounce “the chaos” of a plan to add more clinics without hiring enough new staff. They say doctors are unable to properly serve patients under current conditions.

Unions representing around 5,000 family doctors in Madrid have also said they will join the indefinite strike from Nov. 21.

“Madrid’s public health is in critical condition. We’ve gone from the applause of the pandemic to being totally forgotten,” Monica, a nurse, told Spanish broadcaster RTVE at the protest on Sunday.

Although Madrid is one of the wealthiest parts of Spain, it has the country’s second-lowest ratio of family doctors per person. It is at the back of the list regarding nurses and spends the second-least amount of money on public health care per capita.

Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the region’s leader, who has been accused of trying to dismantle the public healthcare system, has called the strikes a “boycott” and said the protests are politically motivated.

Ayuso was also heavily criticized by members of the healthcare sector when she became the most outspoken political leader in Spain to speak out against lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sunday, protesters carried large caricatures of the Madrid leader and chanted for her resignation.

One of the protesters included famous film director Pedro Almodovar. Speaking to Spanish daily El Pais, he said he was marching because “the question of public healthcare is absolutely transversal and affects everyone.”

Sunday’s massive protest also included a minute of silence for the thousands of people who lost their lives in Madrid senior care homes during the pandemic.

In 2020, Madrid residents saw their life expectancy drop more dramatically than anywhere else in Europe — from 85.8 to 82.3 years— according to Eurostat.

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