Ecuador names new health minister after vaccine program criticism

QUITO, March 1 (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno on Monday named an experienced surgeon as the Andean country’s health minister, following the previous minister’s resignation following accusations of irregularities in a pilot program for coronavirus vaccinations.

Rodolfo Farfan, 63, will replace Juan Carlos Zevallos, who is under investigation by state prosecutors for mishandling the vaccine rollout after he participated in an inoculation effort at a nursing home where his mother lives. Zevallos resigned on Friday.

His resignation followed scandals in Latin American countries including Peru and Argentina over nepotism and favoritism in the distribution of scarce COVID-19 vaccines.

Farfan had been serving as vice minister for comprehensive care within the ministry.

Ecuador is aiming this year to vaccinate 60% of its population over age 18. Moreno has said he has secured 20 million vaccine doses for the country of some 17 million people.

The country last year faced one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the region when hospitals and morgues in the city of Guayaquil were overwhelmed, forcing the government to collect dead bodies from homes.

The country has officially reported some 286,000 cases and 11,078 deaths. The government says a further 4,754 deaths are likely due to the novel coronavirus. (Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Peter Cooney)