Bolivian health minister arrested, fired over costly ventilators



LA PAZ – Bolivia’s interim president Jeanine Anez has fired Health Minister Marcelo Navajas for his alleged role in a kickback scheme involving the purchase of 170 Spanish-made ventilators at inflated prices for COVID-19 patients.

The news was broke by Communications Minister Isabel Fernandez  on Wednesday, hours after Navajas was arrested by the police.

Bolivia bought more than 170 ventilators through intermediaries from a manufacturer in Spain for $27,683 each, costing almost $5 million. The Bolivian press found that each of the ventilators produced by the Spanish company GPA Innova has a price of $7,194. The scandal escalated when doctors said the ventilators did not meet the requirements for use in intensive care.

“The president has decided to remove Marcelo Navajas as Health Minister to avoid any interference in the work of the justice (department) and impeding the investigations,” said Fernandez.

Current Deputy Health Minister Eydi Roca will “temporarily fill the position,” she added.

“I pledge to pursue this investigation against those who have committed corruption in the purchase of ventilators, and that every penny will be returned to the Bolivians. I will continue to work to equip our hospitals with transparency,” Anez wrote on her Twitter account Wednesday morning.

Other officials under investigation for taking part in the scheme have also been fired, said Fernandez.

Two officials were arrested on Monday, including the head of the Health Ministry’s legal department, Fernando Valenzuela, and the executive general director of the AISEM, the agency in charge of procuring medical equipment, Giovani Pacheco. Two advisers from the Inter-American Development Bank, who approved the purchase, were also arrested on Wednesday.

Bolivia has so far registered 4,481 COVID-19 cases and 189 deaths.

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