Venezuela Faces ‘Humanitarian Crisis’ While Ignoring Chikungunya Outbreak

AP Photo/WGBH/Nova
AP Photo/WGBH/Nova

Two major public health groups in Venezuela are warning that President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government is ignoring a surge in cases of the crippling chikungunya virus that could lead to a “humanitarian crisis” in the increasingly impoverished OPEC nation.

In a joint statement, the Venezuelan Society of Public Health and the Network to Defend National Epidemiology warned that the nation was on the brink of a “humanitarian crisis” because of a lack of concern on the part of government officials regarding the collapse of the Venezuelan health system. They highlighted, in particular, the chikungunya virus–a mosquito-borne illness that causes severe joint pains and can only be combated by allowing the virus to eventually exit the system–which has been ravaging parts of Brazil and the Caribbean and has also become a significant threat to the health of Venezuelans.

The groups estimate that about three million Venezuelans have been infected with chikungunya in a country of 30 million. “It is the greatest epidemic in Venezuela in many years, and one of the most important within countries affected by the disease,” the groups warned, according to Argentine news outlet Infobae.

The groups also condemned “the failures in health policies and model development of the past 15 years”–since Hugo Chávez came to power–and noted that such failures “cannot be disguised with official propaganda and is clearly evidenced by the retrogression in health indicators like infant and maternal mortality rates.”

The Venezuelan health system is largely run by Cuban doctors, thanks to negotiations between the two socialist countries, in which Venezuela pays for medical care with its vast oil reserves. In addition to plummeting oil prices, the system has been significantly damaged by a shortage of basic medical supplies like gauze and latex gloves–which has led to a surge in the number of amputations performed at Venezuelan hospitals–as well as major defections among Cuban doctors. These doctors have begun to flee Venezuela in droves to relocate to South Florida, which boasts America’s largest Cuban population.

Shortages have hit pharmacies, as well as hospitals. One recent study found that 60% of pharmacies in Caracas suffer from significant shortages of basic drugs, while outside the capital, up to 70% of pharmacies endure the same. The head of Venezuela’s Pharmacist Federation, Freddy Ceballos, warned this week that pharmacists see “no way to replenish inventories,” which may be a near–or complete–drought of medicine in a nation already struggling to find basic goods, such as milk, flour, and soap.


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