The country’s medical infrastructure is falling apart. The Clinical University Hospital of Caracas used to be Venezuela’s flagship medical centre, but today it cannot offer basic medical services such as x-ray machines. There are frequent power cuts and water is often cut off. According to Efrain Vegasa, a trauma surgeon, “all that is left here is the building and the doctors. This hospital is just a shell.”
The situation is worsened by the almost complete absence from Venezuela of basic medicines such as vaccines, antibiotics and antivirals. Consequently, many Venezuelans are now dying from preventable diseases. In 2016, an average of 31 Venezuelan infants died every day from preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and bacterial infections. Parents must scour the nation’s hospitals for basic but unavailable medicines, in a desperate struggle to keep their children alive. The situation is truly heart-breaking.
300,000 Venezuelans are suffering from chronic diseases. Due to an at least 90% absence of high-cost drugs for many diseases, there is an imminent risk of death for those who need daily treatment. Several have already died.
A central problem is that the government refuses to allocate sufficient funds to import medicines and owes considerable sums to international suppliers of medicines. It is estimated that only 5 percent of necessary medicines are available. The Government has decided to emphasise herbal medicines instead, and has launched the “100 percent Natural Health Plan”. This plan seeks the “rescue of historic and patrimonial health, knowledge of the old ladies,” according to President Nicolas Maduro. “I am curing a terrible flu that hit me at the beginning of the year with chamomile, aloe, lemon and a little honey,” Maduro said. “This comes from the ancestral knowledge of my family.”
However, for those such as cancer patients in severe pain, herbal cures do not help and they must suffer extreme pain without relief from specialist medicines. The finance ministry refuses to release the funds needed to buy more morphine for the public healthcare system, says Dr. Patricia Bonilla, the founder of the Venezuelan Society of Palliative Medicine.
By 1945 Venezuela had eliminated the main epidemics. But now they are back. Chikungunya affected 3.5 million between 2015 and 2015 and 10% of the population caught Zika and Dengue fever. Malaria has returned, affecting 246,000 people in 2016, with the number doubling in 2017. Venezuela is in the grip of a severe health crisis, with the number of deaths steadily rising.