Venezuelan hospitals have been forced to tell patients to bring their own bandages, gauze, and medicine as they run out of basic supplies, with doctors picking and choosing only the emergency room cases they believe they can help because of the limited equipment they have.
“We work as if we were in a war-torn country,” Dr. Efraim Vegas tells Spanish newspaper El País in an exposé on the nation’s public health infrastructure this week. Vegas admits to telling patients that, if they do not bring their own medicine, they will likely not receive medical care. The newspaper notes that, in the Coche Hospital’s supply closet, only four boxes of medication remain, sitting aside two bottles of antibacterial solution.
In another hospital, Dr. Teodoro Pérez tells the newspaper: “we don’t have face masks, asthma medication, very few antibiotics and we have no reactive materials for blood testing. We don’t even have test tubes to put the blood in.” Pérez says there have been “many times” where he has taken money out of his salary to buy hospital supplies.
Venezuelan doctors make an average of $2.20 a day. As Venezuela participates in Cuba’s slave doctor program, those who make that much are the best-paid.
Among the hardest hit patients in this crisis, a CNN report highlighted earlier this month, are children with cancer. Cancer and HIV drugs are especially scarce in Venezuela, though painkillers and antibiotics are also rare. Venezuelan Medical Federation President Douglas León Natera has estimated a 90 percent shortage of all drugs in hospitals nationwide.
In January, the head of the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela, Freddy Ceballos, declared a “humanitarian emergency,” imploring the socialist government of Nicolás Maduro to allow international aid into the country. “It’s necessary to activate all mechanisms of international health assistance to solve this crisis as soon as possible,” he stated. The federation’s vice president, Yolanda Carrasquel, warned of “100 percent shortage on a national level.”
Hospitals are also missing non-medical necessary goods, such as cleaning supplies. Last year, one hospital recorded the deaths of 17 newborns who contracted infections from an opossum infestation in the hospital. Staff did not have the equipment to clean out the opossums or the antibiotics to treat the infants following their infection.
Infant mortality in Venezuela, El País reports, has increased 1000 percent since 2012, from 0.02 percent to 2.01 percent in 2015.
Maduro has rejected international aid, with Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) members suggesting that allowing humanitarian aid organizations into the country would be akin to “foreign intervention.” While Maduro has promised to resolve the medical crisis, he has issued no specifics on how he will do so without importing drugs into the country or allowing aid groups to provide medical care.
For one, Maduro cannot use government credit to buy the medications. Reports indicate that the government owes various pharmaceutical companies $4 billion in unpaid bills, and with the Venezuelan bolívar reportedly having the highest inflation rate in the world, it is nearly impossible for the government as an entity to acquire these drugs. Nor does Venezuela produce drugs; it imports an estimated 60 percent of its medical supplies.
Venezuela is also facing a severe lack of basic food goods – vegetable oil, milk, and flour, among others – that has triggered a wave of looting, violence, and fears of famine. An estimated 90 percent of Venezuelans do not have enough money to buy the food they need to survive, and even if they did, supermarkets are so short of materials that Maduro has ordered the military to supervise and control the national food supply.