Venezuela is facing a health care crisis of massive proportions. Since 2012, the infant mortality rate has skyrocketed from 0.02% to more than 2%. (The latest numbers are from 2015, so this is a hundred-fold increase within 3 years.) The mortality rate for new mothers increased almost 5 times over the same period. Everyone else isn’t doing too well either. Says Dr. Yamila Battaglini, a surgeon at J. M. de los Ríos Children’s Hospital, “There are people dying for lack of medicine, children dying of malnutrition and others dying because there are no medical personnel.” That doesn’t even cover all of the problems facing Venezuela right now, which include:
Rolling blackouts: The government has announced official “rolling” blackouts of at least 40 days. That includes hospitals and other medical facilities. (Doctors are reporting having to work in the dark.) At least one hospital has a generator that doesn’t work. One reason electricity is being rationed is that even though money has been allocated to building new power plants, the plants aren’t online, and the money hasn’t been accounted for. (Unfortunately this kind of potential theft/ corruption is much too common in Venezuela). Another reason is . . .
Drought: The Guri hydroelectric dam provides 75% of the nation’s electricity, and currently has extremely low levels due to drought. The drought, caused by El Niño, has also resulted in a general lack of water, which is now being rationed. The combination means that the hospital doesn’t have adequate water supplies, resulting in . . .
Lack of sanitation: Without water, sanitation suffers. Doctors have reported performing surgery after a quick rinse from a water bottle, and no rinsing down of surgical beds or instruments before the next surgery, or procedure. But the people who are getting surgery or procedures are lucky, because many hospitals are also suffering from . . .
Shortages of medical personnel: Many medical professionals have left Venezuela during the severe ongoing economic issues (such as inflation, currently pegged at 700%) due to both the decreasing price of oil (Venezuela’s main export) and what have been called “disastrous” government policies. Says Ricardo Hausmann, Professor at the Kennedy School of Government (and Venezuela native), “Venezuela’s problems are a consequence of the craziest economic policy ever in a country or in the world. It’s a country that has gone through its longest and highest oil boom in its history, and ended that period over-indebted, with a destroyed productive capacity, and now it cannot face the reduction in the price of oil.” Doctors that remain face exhaustion – without water and power, many are attempting to save lives by manually operating equipment (such as respirators for newborns). Even this can’t save lives with . . .
Shortages of drugs and equipment: The Pharmaceutical Federal of Venezuela estimates that the country is lacking ~80% of needed basic medical supplies. Price controls in Venezuela resulted in official selling prices lower than manufacturing costs. This made it financially infeasible to provide many products. The government can’t afford to import drugs, and individuals have difficulty doing so because official currency exchange isn’t available. (Even if it was, Venezuelan money is virtually worthless at this point, as the government keeps printing more.) Theft and corruption have also resulted in the loss of some equipment. And as if this all weren’t enough, the country is also suffering from . . .
Zika outbreak: To a country that lacks almost all ability to provide health care, add an ongoing outbreak (see our previous blog) for which there is currently no cure, and you end up with a situation where “some come here healthy, and they leave dead.” (Dr. Leandro Pérez, Luis Razetti Hospital)
With this many (and this severe) problems, there are no easy answers. Making the situation even worse is the government’s denial that there IS a problem. Says President Nicolás Maduro, “I doubt that anywhere in the world, except in Cuba, there exists a better health system than this one.” This is preventing other countries from providing aid, sometimes because they are unaware the extent of the need. At least one country, India, is offering drugs for oil, though that may be mainly to recoup funds they are already owed, not for providing new medication.
In order to see the multitude of causes that have resulted in the health care crisis in Venezuela laid out in a visual cause-and-effect format, click on “Download PDF” above. Or click here to read more.