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Bolivian Doctors Announce Strike Over Universal Health Care

FILE - A patient rests among empty beds inside the General Hospital during a doctors' strike in La Paz, Bolivia, Dec. 11, 2017. Public sector doctors in Bolivia announced a 2-day strike Wednesday to protest universal health care.

Public sector doctors in Bolivia announced a 48-hour strike Wednesday in response to a government move to make health care free for all.

"Our goal is to register 5.8 million people in Bolivia," said Adolfo Zarate, the program's spokesman, in a statement sent to AFP.

Doctors working in public hospitals responded by announcing they would put down their tools on Thursday and Friday.

According to the health ministry, some 5.8 million of Bolivia's 11 million population do not have health insurance but will be given access to free services once the registration period is completed in the next three months.

Diseases and illnesses covered by the universal health care system will include Parkinson's, child cancer, diabetes, pneumonia, flu and dental problems.

The health ministry said the program will have a budget of around 1.6 million bolivianos (about $230 million) but Erwin Viruez, president of Bolivia's professional medical college, said that won't be enough.

"We're going to need one billion dollars, at least, but this won't be enough to guarantee universal health care," he said. "We don't have any supplies, there aren't enough beds."

President Evo Morales has called on striking doctors to engage in dialogue.