SEATTLE, Washington — Economic hardship from the extreme drop in oil prices between 2013-2018 has severely depleted healthcare in Venezuela. Oil is a significant portion of Venezuela’s economy, making up 99% of Venezuela’s export revenue and 35% of its GDP in 2018. This price drop, along with political mismanagement, corruption, lack of economic diversification and infrastructure investment, created a humanitarian crisis for Venezuelans. Venezuela is unable to provide basic necessities such as food, clean water and medical care. This resulted in massive migration out of the country as families seek these necessities elsewhere. Healthcare in Venezuela is one of the hardest-hit sectors as a result of COVID-19.
Deteriorating Healthcare in Venezuela
More than half of Venezuela’s healthcare workers emigrated from the country and only 10% of hospitals have enough essential medical supplies. There are severe shortages in soap, disinfectants, gloves, masks, X-ray machines, respirators, ICU beds and water in hospitals and clinics. Patients and medical personnel must bring their own water for drinking, cleaning equipment, scrubbing in and out of medical procedures and flushing toilets.
In 2018, only 15% of essential medicines were available, placing patients with cancer, heart disease and chronic diseases such as diabetes and HIV most at-risk because of their dependence on consistent medication. The near-collapse of healthcare in Venezuela brought detrimental health consequences. In 2016, infant mortality increased by 30%, and maternal mortality rose by 65%. In 2018, a lack of vaccines led to an outbreak of measles in Venezuela, a disease that Latin America had previously eliminated. Venezuela experienced the world’s largest rise in malaria cases in 2019.
This previous deterioration beginning in 2013 raises serious concerns about how Venezuela’s already struggling healthcare system can handle the current COVID-19 pandemic. The situation in Venezuela is dire, as it has been for quite some time. Significant outside intervention is necessary to preserve the lives of countless Venezuelans. Thankfully, various organizations have stepped up to offer this much-needed support before and after COVID-19.
Pre-COVID-19 Healthcare Aid in Venezuela
- Doctors Without Borders (MSF): MSF started four medical programs that cater to victims of brutality and sexual violence by providing medical and psychological support. Additionally, MSF boosted the Venezuelan malaria program by providing tests for more than 200,000 people, treating close to 138,000, donating 20,000 mosquito nets and spraying about 4,000 homes. MSF also gave much needed medical supplies as well as offering training for medical personnel.
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC): The IFRC provided extensive aid and funding to help support medical assistance that the Venezuela Red Cross (VRC) carries out. The VRC maintains eight hospitals and 33 medical clinics, offers community-based medical screenings and heads disease prevention and hygiene programs.
- The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria: In 2018, the Global Fund donated $5 million to Venezuela, which the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) used to purchase antiretroviral drugs. More recently, the Global Fund issued Venezuela a $19.8 million three-year grant to fight the increasing prevalence of malaria.
Post-COVID-19 Healthcare Relief Efforts to Venezuela
- UNICEF: On May 29, 2020, UNICEF brought 12 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, to provide nutritional support and water stores. The aid package contains 127,000 water purification tablets, 18 water tanks and 40,000 nutritional support packages.
- Americares: Nearly 2 million Venezuelans fled to Colombia for necessities and access to medical care. COVID-19 made access to healthcare even more difficult due to border closures. Americares set up 10 clinics and eight departments on the Venezuelan-Colombian border to help address the specific needs of migrants. The clinics provided PPE and implemented social distancing measures.
- International Rescue Committee (IRC): In response to COVID-19 border closures, the IRC set up triage care centers along a bridge and highway that Venezuelan migrants frequently used. These centers address essential needs as well as testing and referrals for COVID-19. The IRC also provides reproductive and maternal care along with telemedicine.
Each of these aid efforts attempts to compensate for and support the near-collapsed healthcare system in Venezuela. However, healthcare in Venezuela has a long way to go before reaching an optimal level. While Venezuela has not solved the problem and it requires more work toward long-term solutions, it is not alone in the fight.
– Paige Wallace
Photo: U.S. Southern Command
Photo: U.S. Southern Command