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Children’s medicine shortage stokes anger in Mexico

Hermes Soto, who turned 5 on Monday, will not be celebrating his birthday with friends. Instead, he is bracing for his 15th chemotherapy session to tackle a rare but aggressive form of cancer that threatens to kill him.

For his mother, Esperanza Paz, the ordeal is compounded by fears of another round of shortages in the supply of the life-saving vincristine drug needed to treat the soft-tissue cancer in her son’s forearm.

“He can relapse. The cancer can come back,” said Paz, after a vital round of chemotherapy was delayed by a week in mid-January due to vincristine shortages in his Mexico City hospital.

“The concern is that Hermes is now in the final stage of his treatment. We only need two cycles of chemotherapy to finish,” added Paz, a crafts-maker who lives with her three small children in a modest home in the capital.

Hermes, who has undergone three surgeries since October 2018, is one of dozens of children whose cancer treatment has been imperilled by shortages following a procurement shake-up by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government, which centralized drug purchases to reduce corruption and overpricing.

Lawyer Andrea Rocha represents parents of more than 60 children, mostly cancer patients, who have been unable to find the correct medicines in Mexico in recent months. She has filed lawsuits aimed at compelling the government to give the children medicine.

The festering issue has morphed into a major headache for Lopez Obrador, popular for his promises to improve the lot of Mexico’s most vulnerable. Images of sick children and distraught parents criticizing the government from crowded hospital wards have led to tough questions aimed at the president in news conferences.

Lopez Obrador has said in recent weeks that Mexico now has enough medicines. He said scarcity in recent months was linked to Mexican pharmaceutical distributors who were resisting the procurement changes, along with hospital officials who he said hoarded medicines and supply issues from drug companies in China and India.

The president’s office and the health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.