Venezuelan transplant patients are turning to animal medicines and previously rare diseases are returning in epidemic proportions as the government refuses to accept foreign aid to support its collapsing healthcare system, doctors have warned.
According to the 2017 National Hospital Survey, a study by the Medical Association for Health, 78% of Venezuelan public hospitals have medicine shortages and three quarters are short of surgical supplies.
“It is a regression, everything goes backwards, we have already experienced this before, it was called the stone age and people died at the age of 20. Private clinics are the only ones that manage to operate, but even so, they also suffer from scarcity, it is a national situation. Pharmacies are empty, they fill their shelves with water bottles." said a Venezuelan doctor who asked Euronews to preserve her anonymity.
"The crisis has different facets. One of them is the reappearance of diseases that had been eradicated decades ago, including malaria and diphtheria," Julio Castro, a Venezuelan doctor and infectious disease specialist told Euronews. Yesterday I saw a boy at the Children's Hospital in Caracas who was diagnosed with diphtheria and died. It is an epidemic that is now active and should have been controlled with vaccines. Same with malaria."
"It's a sign of complete deterioration in the health system. We had 400,000 cases of malaria in 2017, it had been 200,000 in 2016, and 120,000 the previous year. In the 80s there were only 1,200 cases."
In Venezuela, the anti-malarial treatment and prevention campaign is 100% government-managed. The military controls malaria drugs and there is a black market, closely linked to the government because it is them who distribute it,” Dr Castro claims.
16,000 lives at risk
The Coalition of Organizations for the Right to Health and Life (CODEVIDA) issued a statement on January 28 declaring the Venezuelan government responsible for "the deaths and severe damage to the health and nutritional state of the most vulnerable population groups, which occur daily and are increasing during the last next few weeks, unless they comply with their obligation to seek assistance and cooperation from international organizations, which are awaiting a response.”
Francisco Valencia, CODEVIDA's Director, told Euronews that the situation faced by transplant recipients in the country is critical, with 16,000 patients suffering kidney failure at immediate risk unless something is done in the next month.
"From 2017 onwards, the nine drugs that prevent a patient from losing a transplanted organ have completely disappeared. The situation has led 30 kidney patients to begin rejecting their new organ, 20 people have already lost it in two months, and 5 have died. Nothing like this has ever happened before," explains Valencia.
"Some people take out-of-date drugs, others take them irregularly, transplant recipients have had to go to animal shelters and veterinary clinics to take some kind of equivalent to the medicine," says Valencia.
The Venezuelan government does not accept the country is suffering from a humanitarian crisis. It "is a fake" statement, the president of the National Constituent Assembly, Delcy Rodriguez, told a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 2017.
Venezuela's Health Minister Luis López said at the end of last year that he would not allow humanitarian aid to enter the country.
“No one here will kneel before the ‘empire’ and we will not allow the ‘right wing’ to impose an alleged humanitarian aid when our people are being looked after by President Nicolas Maduro,” the minister said on state channel VTV.
Those working on the ground see things very differently.
“I don't understand what the Venezuelan government means when they say that there is no humanitarian crisis, if they don't like the name humanitarian crisis, then let them change it. We need urgent help to get medicines," said Dr Castro.
The response that came from president Maduro last month was to launch an "ancestral health plan" to treat diseases with herbs and natural products. The 100% natural health plan seeks the "rescue of historical and patrimonial health, the knowledge of old women", Maduro said.