Health crisis in Venezuela: infant mortality and disease rates are soaring

Official report shows effects of a chronic shortage of medicine and supplies at hospitals and pharmacies

After three years without official figures, Venezuela’s Health Ministry has just released its Epidemiology Bulletin, which contains data from last year. And the figures in this new report have shattered one of the symbols that the Bolivarian revolution was most proud of: the quality and reach of its public social and health systems.

A February protest in Caracas over lack of medicines.
A February protest in Caracas over lack of medicines.AFP
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La difteria y la mortalidad infantil se disparan en Venezuela

According to the report, infant deaths rose 30% in 2016 from the previous year, while maternal deaths grew by a staggering 65%. Meanwhile, diphtheria – a disease that had been eradicated two decades ago – made a comeback last year with 324 cases.

And malaria, which was brought under control in the 1940s, has become endemic again, with cases doubling in a year to more than 240,000. A third disease, Zika, grew spectacularly from 72 cases in 2015 to 59,348 in 2016. Hepatitis A and tuberculosis also made considerable advances.

If the chronic shortage of medicine and medical supplies at hospitals and pharmacies is taken into account, the emerging picture is nearly catastrophic.

Rather than numbers, what this report contains is faces and names, stories of mourning

José Manuel Olivares, opposition deputy

“Venezuela is currently experiencing the worst health crisis in its republican history,” said Maritza Durán, president of the Venezuela Society of Internal Medicine, in statements to the Efe news agency.

The opposition deputy José Manuel Olivares, who is a doctor and president of the Health Subcommittee at the National Assembly, said that these official figures “only confirm the health crisis that Venezuela is going through, and which the government of Nicolás Maduro has insisted on concealing.”

Venezuela had been publishing epidemiology bulletins on a weekly basis since 1938. Under Hugo Chávez, they were intermittently suspended to avoid “political interpretations,” according to the government. In April 2014, with Maduro in the presidency, the reports were suspended indefinitely.

The ER at Caracas Medical Center.
The ER at Caracas Medical Center.AP

One of the opposition’s main demands throughout the crisis has been for the government to allow a humanitarian aid channel in the country, to alleviate the country’s dire health situation.

In 2014 Henry Ventura, who was the health minister at the time, announced that the bulletin would “never come out again” and would be replaced by press conferences that never came to pass. The document had been designed to report on the incidence of 73 infectious diseases.

The report was partially restored in 2016. On Tuesday, a new document came out compiling all the figures for last year.

“Rather than numbers, what this report contains is faces and names, stories of mourning,” said the deputy Olivares. “This is a result of the involution of our health system. While these figures are on a downward trend in Latin America, they are soaring in our country because of the serious social and health indicators we are registering. The ministry’s figures are truly alarming, and they evidence the serious crisis we have been denouncing from the National Assembly.”


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