A Venezuelan couple has told Euronews about their experience as patients at the Caracas University Hospital in Venezuela in the midst of severe shortages and a healthcare system teetering on the edge of collapse.
“We had to bring everything, there is no water, no cotton, no anesthesia, no injections, no gauze, no medication, analgesics or antibiotics. We even had to bring the gloves and the doctor's hat."
This is the testimony of Ana Margarita Rojas, a Venezuelan whose partner Elena Hernaiz, was hospitalized at the University Hospital of Caracas for a pneumococcal infection in his right lung last summer.
"Pneumococcus is one of the epidemics emerging from the non-compliance with vaccination sessions in the country" Julio Castro, a specialist for infectious diseases, told Euronews.
Ana's partner was diagnosed in a private clinic but had to go public as the high inflation meant her insurance did not cover the treatment.
"Elena, my partner, is an activist so through friends we were able to get her moved very quickly to the University Hospital. It's not very easy to get hospitalised so soon.”
"Our situation was severe. Elena was on the verge of death and we couldn't cover the expenses. One pneumococcal vaccine alone costs $120.”
Venezuela is also experiencing a severe economic crisis. Chávez established controls on exchange rates in 2003 and since then, only a government entity is authorized to exchange bolivars for foreign currency. However, it has become impossible for ordinary citizens to gain access to its service, leaving the exchange of foreign currencies at the mercy of the black market.
Just 1 US dollar is valued at 235,782 bolívares, while the minimum wage is 797,510 bolívares per month. At 36 times the minimum wage, the inocculation is prohibitively expensive. "We have nothing here," says Ana.
Situated on the campus of the Central University of Caracas, the hospital ranks third in the country, according to a study published by El Nacional.
“It's very sad, it used to be a national reference centre, says one doctor at the University Hospital who prefers to remain anonymous. If patients need blood tests, samples or CT scans, they must go to a private clinic. We have nothing here, no medicines, no antibiotics, no reagents, nothing."
She explains that her earning have shrunk to a pittance, and it is the feeling that her work is a vocation that are the reason she continues. "Now, for example, I have to buy rubbers for my car, they cost me more than what I make at the hospital in a year", she says.
"There's nothing, there are no surgical medical supplies, we've been without water for weeks. They make improvised rooms for invasive studies where patients can become contaminated. We don't have elevators either, now there is only one lift in the whole hospital: sick patients, dead bodies, garbage, immunocompromised, pregnant women with babies, everything goes up and down in the same place.
"Our experience at the hospital was very hard."
Ana also describes the shortages patients endure in the centre, "We were three days in a row without water during our stay, there were giant cockroaches, the only bathroom in our hallway was for 30 women and there was no light, I had to bring a light bulb and a bassinet from my house. They also stole my cell phone while I was there, but well, that's normal."
At nighttime and faced with the daily distress, Ana said she and her partner experienced many moments of fear.
"The hospital has the Bolivarian Police who supposedly guards, but we used to put metal chairs behind the door at night because we were afraid.”
One of the expressions that most shocked Ana during her partner's hospital stay was hearing the expression "he was discharged from heaven" a common way to sadly refer to people who died because there were no resources to treat them.
However, Ana insists that none of this is due to a lack of professionalism on the part of the staff who are doing all they can under extremely difficult conditions.
At the end of last year, the Venezuelan Medical Federation said more than 21,000 doctors had left the country.
"All this was more than six months ago, now it's worse. Although the hospital staff made an exception, the academic and professional level of all the doctors and nurses saved Elena's life," recalls Ana, in tears. "It's the hospital's human capital that saved her."
Photo credit: Ana Margarita Rojas