The global medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced on Tuesday that it would end operations in a hospital in a poor neighborhood in Petare, Venezuela, because the socialist regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro has refused to allow its specialists to enter the country.
While once the wealthiest country in Latin America, Venezuela is now one of the world’s most dangerous and impoverished, the result of two decades of socialist governance. Under Maduro, Venezuela’s healthcare system has collapsed, lacking access to nearly every basic medication the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) deems necessary to offer proper health services and made up largely of dilapidated, unsanitary hospitals and clinics. Venezuela is also experiencing major shortages of food, fuel, and water, all creating a significant humanitarian crisis that has prompted the largest refugee exodus in the history of the region.
Maduro’s regime regularly denies that Venezuela is undergoing any crisis and has limited the ability of international aid groups to help regular Venezuelans. On Monday, state television aired Maduro’s birthday party, which featured multiple musical acts and a large, elaborate Venezuelan flag cake. Flour, eggs, and sugar are among the goods that average Venezuelans have struggled to purchase for years.
“Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been forced to withdraw from the Ana Francisca Pérez de León II hospital, in Petare, northeast Caracas, Venezuela, where we had been assisting with the COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] response since March,” the organization announced on Tuesday. “This decision was made after entry restrictions into the country were imposed on MSF’s specialist humanitarian personnel. These restrictions made it impossible for us to carry out the essential activities necessary to treat COVID-19 patients to our standards.”
The organization has worked in Venezuela since 2015, according to the Argentine news network Infobae.
The group said that they applied for special entry visas for their specialists to come work in Petare, but the Maduro regime never responded. While not legally in charge of the country — Maduro lost that power when his official term ended in January 2019 – Maduro retains control of the military and the government apparatus with the exception of some embassies in democratic countries.
MSF’s general coordinator in Venezuela, Isaac Alcalde, said in a press statement that the group had been working to train local staff to work independently of the MSF health workers, but “we need specialist staff on site who are familiar with MSF’s processes, so we can guarantee the quality standards that are required for this type of project. Hence we have had to make this difficult decision.”
MSF will not leave Venezuela altogether and will leave donations of drugs and medical equipment in the Petare hospital, it said.
The Maduro regime claims to have documented slightly over 100,000 cases of Chinese coronavirus in the country and about 900 deaths as of Wednesday, significantly lower numbers than the rates of infection and death tolls in neighboring countries like Colombia and Brazil. Brazil, in contrast, has documented 6.1 million coronavirus cases and 170,000 deaths; Colombia has confirmed 1.2 million cases and 35,677 deaths.
The discrepancy in the numbers has led many to doubt the socialist regime’s numbers. The Venezuelan polling firm Meganalisis asked Venezuelans in October about how they were being diagnosed and found more reason for skepticism — about 87 percent of Venezuelans living with someone diagnosed with Chinese coronavirus said they did not receive a PCR test, the most accurate test for Chinese coronavirus. Nearly 70 percent said they were diagnosed without a test of any kind.
About 73 percent of Venezuelans told Meganalisis they did not believe that the coronavirus data compiled by the Maduro regime was accurate.
Reports indicate that the Maduro regime has done a poor job of handling the isolation procedures that global health experts believe are necessary for containing the spread of the virus. Maduro initially vowed that he would hospitalize all coronavirus patients — despite the fact that many are believed to be not just mild cases, but asymptomatic — before reports began surfacing of Maduro police imprisoning suspected coronavirus patients in confiscated motels. There, families alleged, the quarantined individuals lacked adequate food and water and were threatened with police action if they published any complaints on social media.
Maduro has been personally responsible for promoting bizarre and likely fraudulent cures for the coronavirus pandemic. During his regular television broadcasts, he has repeatedly advertised “miracle droplets” of an unknown substance, which he has linked to a Venezuelan saint.
“You put some droplets under your tongue every four hours; it is yielding miraculous results,” Maduro said in October. “The little miracle droplets go directly, so you can take them with faith. Your body comes out refined; it eliminates COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus].”
Maduro has also advertised “rectal ozone therapy” as a treatment for the virus. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ozone is “a toxic gas with no known useful medical application in specific, adjunctive, or preventive therapy.” Maduro has not clarified why the toxic gas would be administered rectally to treat a respiratory disease, but he has claimed that it has a 96 percent success rate, without sourcing that figure.