Metro Health Clinics a Bonus for Mexico City Commuters
Asela Viar - EFE
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August 30, 2012

A woman gets an ultrasound in a medical unit installed in a suburban station in Mexico City. (EFE)

Electrocardiograms, urinalyses and mammograms are among the free medical tests that eligible commuters can have performed at the medical clinics located in several Mexico City Metro stations.

For the three-peso ($0.22) fare, which is subsidized by the Federal District's government, people enrolled in the Seguro Popular program for the poor are eligible to have a medical check-up that will not interfere with their daily activities.

"It's excellent because we all get around on the Metro, so all we have to do is figure out where the medical centers are and for three pesos we can get anywhere," Raimundo Chavez, a 53-year-old Seguro Popular participant, told Efe while waiting for a train at the Tacuba station in northwest Mexico City.

The Mexico City native, who does not have steady work and lacks the money to pay for private health insurance, said the "free and nearby" clinics were "a great help," adding that he would not have been able to undergo a check-up without the program.

The clinic at Tacuba, surrounded by shops, fast-food restaurants and street peddlers, is one of 12 currently operating in Mexico City, whose metro area is home to about 20 million people.

The Angel Network Health Units, as the clinics are officially known, commenced operations in February as a result of the experience gained from the 2009 swine flu outbreak in Mexico, program coordinator Ruben Ramirez told Efe.

"When the influenza (outbreak) started, we had to vaccinate the entire population, but they did not go to health centers, so we had to go to them, that is, to public plazas, train stations, etc.," the physician said.

Health officials had to take measures to prevent the spread of the flu in the Metro system, which carries an estimated 4 million people a day, Ramirez said during an interview at his office in the Tacuba Metro station.

The Health Secretariat began providing medical services at train stations to deal with the high demand for flu shots and "bolster the coverage" at strategic locations, Ramirez said.

Officials decided to create the train-station clinics, which treated 41,500 people in their first six months of operation, of whom 4,500 patients were suffering from illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

The goal of the health centers is mainly to "prevent diseases," Ramirez said, noting that the clinics provide cancer, diabetes, obesity and other tests to patients.

These diseases are among the leading health problems in Mexico, which ranks No. 2 in the world for adult obesity and No. 1 for childhood obesity.

Plans call for the clinics to offer 19 types of tests, including prostate, urine, blood glucose, pregnancy, HIV and other tests.

The clinics currently provide vaccinations, school health certificates, sexual health screenings and nutrition evaluations.

Clinic services are free for Seguro Popular members, but people enrolled in other programs must pay nominal fees.

Patients not enrolled in Seguro Popular pay much lower fees than they would at a private clinic, with a urinalysis, for example, costing just 30 pesos ($2.27), Ramirez said.

Martin Sanchez, a 49-year-old first-time clinic patient, told Efe that he needed an electrocardiogram to renew a license and would have paid 400 pesos ($30.34) at a private medical center.

One of the main criticisms of Seguro Popular, which was rolled out in 2004, is that the program is very bureaucratic.

The clinics, however, address this concern, making it easy for people to get medical care.

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