Like Cuba, socialist Venezuela often boasts of its free socialized medical system, with President Nicolás Maduro announcing in March the introduction of 60,000 new doctors to the Venezuelan medical force. For Venezuelans with medical needs, however, finding health care, or even a fully-stocked pharmacy, is nearly impossible.
According to a new report by Spanish newspaper ABC, Venezuela owes $4 billion to international pharmaceutical corporations, a debt that has left Venezuelans uncertain as to whether they will be able to find life-saving medical items like insulin and antibiotics. The debt has particularly devastated the country because it imports 60% of its drugs; the bad credit makes it nearly impossible for the state to buy more. State figures claim there is a 50% deficit in surgical materials and drugs at a national level.
The $4 billion debt was once again denounced as a critical problem by National Assembly member William Barriento, who spoke to the paper and described the situation in Venezuela as “agonized,” with 11,000 new cases of AIDS reported every year. The paper notes that 20,000 patients currently await dialysis treatment, 41,000 AIDS patients are without care, and the lack of sanitary products has exacerbated the spread of disease. Last year, reports began to surface that the nation was running out of toilet paper, among other sanitary products, a problem that has persisted today. In addition to lacking medical supplies and key hygienic goods, markets in Venezuela have begun to lack essential goods like milk, flour, and vegetable oil, prompting Maduro to establish a ration card system this year.
Venezuelan medicine depends heavily on Cuba. The governments have long traded Cuba’s doctors for Venezuela’s oil, and the deal has expanded to allow Venezuela to send medical students to study abroad in Cuba’s destitute hospitals. The nation’s largest newspaper, El Universal, reported in May that medical treatment in Venezuela had degenerated to a state it had not seen in thirty years, due to unsanitary conditions and a lack of essential items, such as gauze and latex gloves. The situation has led to an extreme surge in the number of amputations at Venezuelan hospitals, as infected wounds cannot rapidly be treated, and the lack of gauze or surgical equipment has forced doctors to make alternative remedies.
In 2013, President Maduro had called Venezuela’s healthcare system “an embarrassment” because many Venezuelans relied on private medical services; he has not commented on the current situation.