Time to Give Healthcare Heroes the Funding They Deserve


As the gradual reopening of the Hungarian economy continues, careful step by careful step, it becomes increasingly clear that this will not, cannot be a quick process.  

Normalcy, if it ever returns, will depend to a great degree on the development of a vaccine. MarketWatch.com in one article dated May 6, listed 23 companies working on coronavirus treatments or vaccines. The World Health Organization says there are 70 coronavirus vaccines under development, three of which are already in human trials, in at least one case after skipping the usual animal trials to try and speed up the process. This is extraordinarily fast. It can take a decade or more to bring a vaccine to market; the efforts now, apparently dubbed Operation Warp Speed by the White House, hope to bring that down to one year.  

But even that unprecedented turn around makes a vaccine before next spring, at the very earliest, highly unlikely. And while COVID-19 is new to us, and therefore our understanding of it is limited, what the scientists know from other types of coronavirus mean they are confident, if not certain, that a second wave is highly possible this fall.  

Hospitals are only just opening up their non-COVID wards; private clinics, having accelerated their use of video consultations, are receiving patients again in limited numbers and under highly controlled circumstances. Several countries that released lockdown measures ahead of Hungary have seen infection levels begin to rise again. We are not, by any stretch, out of the woods.

International concerns over the breadth of the emergency powers handed to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán aside, and viewed through a purely domestic optic, Hungary’s government has had a relatively good crisis, to use a horribly cold description. (Indeed, the same could be said of many of the governments across the region, but most especially Slovakia, which has been rightly lauded for its outstandingly low COVID fatality rate of 0.51 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants; Hungary’s rate is 5.72.) The Hungarian business world has certainly welcomed the economic support on offer from the state. This issue also features a rare and extremely detailed interview with Telenor Hungary’s CEO Jan Hanus, which included this comment: “I’m a Czech citizen, so at least I had a chance to compare the Czech and the Hungarian approaches. Hungary did pretty well, understanding that economic help is really the name of the game. For me, it’s better that the company I’m leading is situated in Hungary, honestly speaking.” 

And yet, there are question marks concerning public healthcare, most especially around testing, transparency over some of the reporting, and the decision to reserve large numbers of hospital beds for COVID patients that, fortunately, weren’t needed, but were also denied to those with other illnesses. The Hungarian Medical Chamber has been especially unhappy, others have pointed to decades of underfunding. Quite why the army should be put in charge of civilian hospitals was never clear to me. But the Hungarian healthcare system is the one we have. It is the system that will have to get us through a second wave, should it come, and keep us safe until that vaccine can be found. At its heart, it is staffed by some remarkably talented and dedicated men and women, who deserve our gratitude, a decent wage, and a system that is fit for purpose. It’s time to bring funding and transparency to healthcare.

Robin Marshall


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