Infestation of Opossums Kills 17 Babies in Venezuelan Birth Ward

Biosphoto / Minden Pictures / Sebastian Kennerknecht/AFP
Biosphoto / Minden Pictures / Sebastian Kennerknecht/AFP

Newly-minted parents at Venezuela’s Dr. Luis Razetti Hospital in Anzoátegui are denouncing its maternity ward for killing 17 babies in a week, the victims of sanitation so poor the ward is overtly inhabited by a swarm of opossums.

Parents say that ten babies were found dead between Saturday and Sunday morning, with another seven dying between Monday and Friday of the week before. All the parents were told their children died from a “bacterial infection”; most of the victims were premature, having been on average seven months into their gestation.

The ninth floor of the hospital, Venezuelan newspapers report, is currently suffering a major infestation of opossums, who appear to be spreading dangerous bacteria throughout the ward. One mother noted that the bathrooms on the ninth floor are out of service, and pregnant women and women who have recently given birth are forced to walk to the fifth floor to use the bathroom.

El Universal, the nation’s largest newspaper, reports that deaths of newborns at the hospital are common. One set of parents told the newspaper that their child had died on a Thursday, but they were not told until Friday. Others who have used the hospital’s services tell El Universal that the situation resembles that of a year ago, when 15 newborns died of an infection and became a rallying cry for the opposition against the socialist government’s recurring inability to provide adequate medical care.

The source of these infections seem to be opossums, who roam the hospital ward freely. One relative of a dead newborn told El Tiempo that, upon challenging hospital officials regarding the opossums, she was told “the appearance of possums is something normal in the hospital; there is an invasion of this type of rodent, but there is no cause for alarm.”

The report in El Universal finds that the reason opossums are so common, says one employee at the hospital, is that sanitation employees have run out of cleaning liquids and necessary maintenance items, leaving them impotent in the face of the filth consuming the hospital.

Earlier on Tuesday, El Tiempo reported that the Anzoátegui state government’s Legislative Council will be investigating the deaths. The latest report indicates that up to 50 newborns have died in the hospital in the past month, all of a similar infection.

Venezuela’s medical situation is dire, and has been dire for years. Doctors warned in 2013, during the tenure of dictator Hugo Chávez, that nearly every kind of necessary medical supply was running out, from needles to bandages to drugs. By the next year, doctors were reporting a surge in the number of amputations at hospitals, as those injured began developing infections that doctors did not have sufficient antibiotics to suppress, and thus resorted to removing limbs.

At the time, reports indicated that 70 percent of Venezuelan pharmacies were struggling to keep stocked with basic drugs; in Caracas, the capital, that number was slightly less, 60 percent. The Venezuelan government, which controls all medical care in the country, at the time owed $4 billion to drug companies and had no way of paying the debt back, leaving pharmacies understocked.

Venezuela relies heavily on the Cuban “slave doctor” trade for its medical care, outsourcing medical jobs to doctors who are paid a meager living stipend to work long hours in Venezuelan hospitals. Even this aspect of the Venezuelan medical system is collapsing, as dozens of Cuban doctors use their assignments in Venezuela as launching pads to defect to the United States, leaving Venezuela with a shortage of doctors.


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