CARACAS — Venezuela is a country highly dependent on the oil market. As a result of the 2014 drop in oil prices, the country experienced a severe economic crisis, with high rates of inflation and unemployment, increased anti-government protests and violence, and severe shortages of food, water and medicine. Venezuela is experiencing a sharply rising inflation rate unlike any other country in the world, estimated at 2,200 percent. The current economic situation, along with Hugo Chávez’s addition of free healthcare to the constitution, created a healthcare crisis in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan Health Observatory estimates that less than 10 percent of the country’s operating rooms, emergency rooms, and intensive care units are operational. According to Human Rights Watch, 76 percent of public hospitals lack basic medicines deemed necessary to function.
Furthermore, 81 percent of hospitals lack surgical materials and 70 percent report an inconsistent water supply. These shortages are of particular concern because malnutrition-related diseases are growing more prevalent due to food shortages. Diphtheria, which once eradicated in Venezuela, has re-emerged and is on the rise, as are Zika virus infections.
To respond to shortages, patients and their families sometimes buy supplies from private sellers or on the black market and bring them to the hospital. However, the crisis is so severe and pervasive that hospitals lack equipment that cannot be bought by patients or are affected by electricity shortages, preventing proper care and treatment.
The healthcare crisis in Venezuela increasingly is impacting its neighbors. Of the more than 12,000 Venezuelans to flee for Brazil since 2014, more than 7,000 sought asylum in 2016. This influx is straining Brazil’s already overburdened healthcare system. Venezuelan asylum-seekers reportedly have a higher demand for healthcare because their lack of medical treatment is what led them to flee in the first place.
In 2016, the Venezuelan government announced plans to reduce the medical shortages, largely by increasing the local production of medical supplies. These initiatives do not appear to have yet had an impact. Current legislation and economic policies in Venezuela, as well as the government’s refusal to declare a humanitarian crisis, have made it difficult for international aid organizations to help alleviate the healthcare crisis in Venezuela.
This crisis, along with the broader humanitarian crisis it accompanies, is of serious concern. It will be crucial for Venezuela to remove legislation hindering outside aid and to work with international aid organizations to address every aspect of the economic and humanitarian crisis. Neighboring countries like Brazil, which are directly affected by the mass migrations out of Venezuela, as well as world powers like the United States, are urged by international aid organizations to put pressure on the Venezuelan government.
– Nicole Toomey