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The alarming collapse of the Venezuelan healthcare system

By Pietro Dionisio
on April 5, 2018

The healthcare situation in Venezuela has  worsened. In the first three months of 2018 a decay of all indices has been registered, and the forecasts are dismal for the future. Hospitals lack basic staff and people suffer malnutrition. The country is facing the re-emergence of diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis considered “under control”. How many people have to die before the trend will be reversed?


In the first three months of 2018, Venezuela’s economic crisis is not recovering as the political and humanitarian emergency are largely inflicted by the Government’s own policies. At the end of this year, the country’s GDP is expected to contract by double digits for the third consecutive year. Furthermore, the economic output fell by 16% in 2016, 14% in 2017, and is foreseen to drop by 15% this year. Meanwhile, after jumping from 112% in 2015 to 2,400% last year, inflation is expected to hit 13,000% in 2018.

Currently, the economic crunch has exacerbated the healthcare system disaster. If in 2016 the situation was dramatic, now it is even worse. As Maduro’s administration has stopped issuing bulletins on health, thus frustrating information retrieval, Venezuela’s Congress has asked doctors and hospital workers to report the situation of their institution.  Since the beginning of 2018, 104 public hospitals and 33 private clinics were surveyed across 52 cities in 22 states. The results highlight one of the most difficult challenges Venezuela physicians must face in their daily practice: the almost complete absence of tools universally found everywhere, such as X-rays (Rx) or CAT scans, necessary for a diagnosis.

Nutritional services are also in critical condition. Halted or working intermittently in 96% of all evaluated centers, there’s an alarming 11% increase compared to last year’s numbers. Infant milk formula is unavailable in 66% of all hospitals. Moreover, only 7,95% of Emergency Rooms in the country are working normally, most of them in private centers. Additionally, operation rooms aren’t doing any better, with 79,37% working intermittently and 15, 19% completely halted. Approximately 88% of all hospitals suffer a lack of basic medicines, a 10% increase compared to last year, and an astonishing 33% rise compared to 2014.

The lack of medicines and precarious living conditions have led to the emergence of diseases considered to be under control, such as malaria, diphtheria, measles and tuberculosis. As official data are not available, single institution data helps understand the trend of a specific disease. As such, two relevant tuberculosis centers in Caracas show that the amount of new patients who tested positive for tuberculosis has increased by 40% over the last year. Experts fear the same trend in the other municipalities and Country’s states.

The catastrophe is worsened by the high rate of emigration that is hitting all societal sectors. Since the beginning of the crisis, 2.7 million Venezuelans are calculated to have crossed borders towards Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago. A huge amount of doctors, healthcare specialists and healthcare workers left the country as well thus reducing the capacity of the healthcare system of addressing disease management and increasing the risk of the spread of epidemics.

Moreover, the high migration rate is affecting relationships with neighboring countries. Brazil and Colombia are sending extra troops to patrol frontier regions where Venezuelans have arrived in record numbers over recent months. Colombia, which officially took in more than half a million Venezuelans over the last six months of 2017, also plans to make it harder to cross the frontier or stay illegally in Colombia. Brazil said it will shift refugees from regions near the border where social services are badly strained.

Maduro’s administration is called upon to concretely face the situation. Concerns on the capacity and willingness to solve problems increase, as President Maduro is playing the blame game with Trump’s sanctions in order to explain Venezuela’s failure to recover. After Maduro held “illegitimate elections” in July 2017, the United States sanctioned him, making him one of four heads of state under sanction. Moreover, just a few days ago, the sanctions have been hardened because of Venezuela’s new currency, the Petro, a cryptocurrency that the U.S. government says intends to evade international penalties on the nation’s regime.

The order issued on Monday 19th prohibits all transactions related to the Petro or other digital currencies issued to benefit Venezuela’s government.

International sanctions are leaving Venezuela without the economic power needed to pay for imports of food and medicine, but, on the other hand, the economic and social calamity is linked to an acute political crisis. In March of last year, the government of Nicolás Maduro deprived the parliament of authority since it was controlled by the opposition. On July 2017, about 7 million Venezuelans voted against the president, but the results were ignored and violent protests have caused more than a hundred dead and hundreds of injured and arrested.

Next May Venezuelans will call for a presidential election. There is no more time to spare. The cataclysm is in front of everyone’s eyes and the Government has to make concrete steps in order to recover the healthcare system and all the other sectors of society.

In the words of Nelson Mandela “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”. Probably, Maduro’s administration is not aware of this, but now or never, is the moment to be compliant with its people’s needs.


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