Ecuador's Moreno names sixth health minister amid pandemic fallout

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FILE PHOTO: Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno addresses the media next to Minister of Health Juan Carlos Zevallos after the arrival of a first batch of doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, in Guayaquil

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador's president on Thursday appointed the country's sixth health minister in four years after firing his predecessor after just weeks on the job following complaints that COVID-19 vaccination efforts had left elderly people waiting in line for hours.

President Lenin Moreno dismissed Mauro Falconi, who had been appointed in mid-March to take over a ministry already facing a congressional inquiry over accusations of nepotism and mishandling of the vaccination campaign. Falconi announced on March 26 he had tested positive for COVID-19.

"I have requested the resignation of the minister of health and he will be replaced by Dr. Camilo Salinas," Moreno wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday night. "Our senior citizens deserve the utmost respect."

On Wednesday, dozens of elderly people waited for hours until nightfall in long lines to get vaccinated at health centers in the capital Quito despite having been given appointments for early in the day. The health centers blamed the problem on delays by the health ministry in distributing vaccine doses, according to local media.

Salinas, a doctor and politician who will become the fifth health minister since the coronavirus pandemic began, will have little time to address the situation. Ecuador holds a presidential runoff vote on Sunday to choose a president who will take office on May 24 to replace Moreno, who did not seek re-election.

The government is grappling with a new wave of infections that has exceeded the capacity of the Andean nation's public health system and has decreed a state of emergency in eight of the 24 provinces with a night curfew until Friday.

Ecuador has said it will receive a million vaccine doses from China's Sinovac by Saturday. The Health Ministry said more than 355,000 doses have been administered. The country has recorded around 340,000 infections and has said 17,000 people have died from COVID-19 or are suspected to have died from it.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Will Dunham)