Italy’s Calabria region turns to war relief charity as third health commissioner quits

Faced with a dysfunctional health system and the resignations of three local leaders in quick succession, Italy's poorest region has turned to a charity more accustomed to working in warzones to help tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Italy's Calabria region turns to war relief charity as third health commissioner quits
Hospitals in the southern Calabria region have long struggled due to mismanagement and mafia infiltration. AFP
International NGO Emergency, which specialises in providing healthcare to victims of war, poverty and landmines, has agreed to help out in Calabria, including by providing field hospitals.
But its surgeon founder Gino Strada, a veteran of health crises in Sudan and Rwanda, denied he was being lined up as the next health commissioner for the
southern region after a series of chaotic postings and departures.
Calabria – the toe of Italy's “boot” – was spared the worst when the country became the first in Europe to be hit by coronavirus earlier this year.
But as cases again rise nationwide, with more than 32,000 recorded on Tuesday, Calabria has been placed under the government's toughest “red zone” restrictions.
Doctor shortages, chronic mismanagement and the pervasive infiltration by the 'Ndrangheta, Italy's most powerful organised crime syndicate, have weighed
for decades on the local health system.
Emergency charity director Gino Strada, who says he is not being lined up as the latest health commissioner, after three quit in the past few weeks. AFP
In recent weeks, the system has also become a byword for managerial incompetence, as not one but three local health commissioners have quit.
Eugenio Gaudio, a doctor and former rector of Rome's prestigious La Sapienza university, stepped down on Tuesday after barely a day in the post, saying his wife did not want to move to Calabria.
His predecessor, Giuseppe Zuccatelli, quit on Monday after a furore over remarks he made questioning the usefulness of masks, which are mandatory in all public places in Italy.
Zuccatelli also suggested coronavirus could only be passed on by kissing someone “with tongues” for at least 15 or 20 minutes.
He hadn't been in place for long either, after replacing Saverio Cotticelli, who was fired in early November after a television interview in which he appeared unaware that it was his job to develop a plan to tackle coronavirus.
In an interview on Wednesday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte apologised to the people of Calabria, saying “they deserve a response after years of poor
health management”.
The emergency entrance of Locri hospital in the Calabria region. AFP
He told La Stampa newspaper that the government had agreed Emergency would start immediate operations in Calabria “with field hospitals, Covid hospitals and triage operations”.
'Old problems'
The head of Federconsumatori, a leading consumer organisation, condemned the rotating cast of local leaders in Calabria in an open letter Tuesday to the government.
“For more than 10 years, Calabria has been experiencing a dramatic situation in its health system,” Emilio Viafora said.
“Its people have not been able to benefit from health services that other Italians have access to – a situation made even worse by the crisis of the pandemic.”
Health policy is usually controlled by Italy's regions, but for the last decade the central government in Rome has run services in Calabria.
The region, Italy's poorerst, has the highest rate of unemployment at 21 percent in 2019 compared with 10 percent nationally. Among young people it is 30.6 percent, compared with 14.8 percent nationwide.
“The health system in southern Italy lacks structure and trained personnel,” Fabio Amatucci, affiliate professor of government and health at the University of Bocconi in Milan, told AFP.
“These are old problems that cannot be solved in a few months.”

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Italy’s Meloni criticises her own government’s ‘Big Brother tax’ law

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Wednesday criticised an "invasive" tax evasion measure reintroduced by her own government, sparking accusations of incompetence from opposition lawmakers.

Italy's Meloni criticises her own government's 'Big Brother tax' law

The measure, allowing Italy’s tax authorities to check bank accounts to look for discrepancies between someone’s declared income and their spending, was abolished in 2018 but its return was announced in the government’s official journal of business this week.

Meloni had previously been strongly critical of the ‘redditometro’ measure, and took to social media on Wednesday to defend herself from accusations of hypocrisy.

“Never will any ‘Big Brother tax’ be introduced by this government,” she wrote on Facebook.

Meloni said she had asked deputy economy minister Maurizio Leo – a member of her own far-right Brothers of Italy party, who introduced the measure – to bring it to the next cabinet meeting.

“And if changes are necessary, I will be the first to ask,” she wrote.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who heads the right-wing Forza Italia party, also railed against what he called an “obsolete tool”.

He called for it to be revoked, saying it did not fight tax evasion but “oppresses, invades people’s lives”.

Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the far-right League party, said it was “one of the horrors of the past” and deserved to stay there.

Opposition parties revelled in the turmoil within the governing coalition, where tensions are already high ahead of European Parliament elections in which all three parties are competing with each other.

“They are not bad, they are just incapable,” said former premier Matteo Renzi, now leader of a small centrist party.

Another former premier, Five Star Movement leader Giuseppe Conte, asked of Meloni: “Was she asleep?”

The measure allows tax authorities to take into account when assessing someone’s real income elements including jewellery, life insurance, horse ownership, gas and electricity bills, pets and hairdressing expenses.

According to the government, tax evasion and fraud cost the Italian state around 95 to 100 billion euros each year.