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Report: Venezuela’s Medical Shortages Rival War Zones

By: Sabrina Martín - @SabrinaMartinR - May 1, 2015, 11:13 am
Medicine shortages in Venezuela create long lines that put thousands of lives at risk.
Medicine shortages in Venezuela create long lines that put thousands of lives at risk. (Radiofia)

EspañolHuman Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the government of Venezuela of creating a health crisis that has left thousands of patients without care due to the shortage of medicines, leading to long waiting lists for even life-threatening conditions.

A months-long investigation led the NGO to conclude that the Nicolás Maduro administration has avoided tackling the problem, scapegoating doctors and pharmacies for the lack of supplies.

Vinanco: "Except in war zones, few times have we witnessed such a steep decline in the access to essential medicines as we see now in Venezuela."
Vinanco: “Except in war zones, few times have we witnessed such a steep decline in the access to essential medicines as we see now in Venezuela.” (El Semanario)

“Except in war zones, few times have we witnessed such a steep decline in the access to essential medicines as we see now in Venezuela,” HRW’s Executive Director for the Americas José Miguel Vivanco said on Wednesday, April 29.

Vivanco believes misguided economic policies are the root of the shortage problem, and warns that thousands of lives are at risk as a result.

HRW’s report echoes a study carried out by Doctors for Health that revealed that 44 percent of the 130 hospitals surveyed did not have functioning surgery rooms. The survey also showed that the majority of medicines included in the World Health Organization’s list of “essential” medicines could not be found in local pharmacies.

On March 17, dozens of human-rights NGOs denounced the deepening health crisis in Venezuela before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC) of the Organization of American States (OAS). They detailed the lack of medical supplies and generally poor conditions Venezuelan medical facilities currently face.

“People are not guaranteed basic health care,” said Luisa Rodríguez, president of Funcamama, a foundation dedicated to fighting breast cancer. Feliciano Reyna, representing the HIV support group Solidary Action, decried the “severe deterioration of infrastructure” due to floods, power blackouts, water shortages, overcrowding, contamination, and the reduced availability of beds for patients.

Rationed Health Care

Faced with 60 percent scarcity in the capital and 70 percent in the countryside, as estimated by the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation (Fefarven), the government has implemented a digital rationing system to allow patients with chronic diseases priority in medicines.

On April 23, the Health Minister Henry Ventura announced the Integrated Medicine Access System (Siamed), an online platform for Venezuelans to request medical supplies. It will allow registered patients to track the arrival of medicines at pharmacies in order to receive them “in a timely and equitable manner.”

Ventura has said that the first medicines to be supplied through Siamed will be those used to treat heart, liver, and neurological diseases.

However, Fefarven President Freddy Ceballos argues that there is not enough medicine in stock to meet the demands of the new online system. “What are registered patients going to receive if there are no medicines?”

Ceballos says Siamed does not address “the root of the problem,” which he believes is the lack of foreign currency to import medicines and distribute them throughout the country.

No Dollars, No Medicine

HRW’s report also highlights the need to overhaul Venezuela’s monetary policy and currency controls that has left the health industry unable to cancel their debts abroad.

The NGO urged the government to allocate foreign currency to the health sector, since Venezuela’s pharmaceutical industry cannot meet local demand and must import most of the medicine, supplies, and raw materials it needs.

For his part, Ceballos warned that local production will halt without access to US dollars. “Until the government provides the necessary dollars in an organized, planned, and systematic manner, the same problems will continue.”

According to Douglas León Natera, president of the Venezuela Medical Federation, some 13,000 medical professional have left the country in the last few years in search of better working and living conditions.

Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

Sabrina Martín Sabrina Martín

Sabrina Martín is a Venezuelan journalist, commentator, and editor based in Valencia with experience in corporate communication. Follow @SabrinaMartinR.