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Venezuela’s health care crisis is worse than the government will admit, says Human Rights Watch

by Kayla Ruble
Oct 24 2016, 4:09am

For Deysis Pinto, caring for her 9-year-old diabetic daughter has grown increasingly challenging amid a political and economic crisis that first took hold in Venezuela in 2014. The country’s faltering economy has resulted in shortages of all types of basic goods, including crucial medical supplies like the insulin Pinto needs to keep her daughter’s blood sugar in check.

Tracking down medicine, often from distant parts of the country, via social media networks, is “how we’ve been able to get the treatment that keeps our children alive,” Pinto told Human Rights Watch, which features her story and others in a wide-ranging report published Monday. In it, the human rights watchdog points to a growing health care and humanitarian crisis that is due to worsen unless immediate action is taken by the government.

“The Venezuelan government has seemed more vigorous in denying the existence of a humanitarian crisis than in working to resolve it.”

Over the past two years, as a tanking economy pushed President Nicolas Maduro’s government into turmoil, the quality of health care in Venezuela has deteriorated amid ongoing shortages of basic medical supplies, from aspirin and antibiotics to surgical gloves and gauze, as well as life-saving medicines.

And it has gotten worse in recent months, with doctors, patients, and the political opposition pointing to examples of the country’s deteriorating healthcare situation. In September, the major opposition party released photos of newborn babies sleeping in cardboard boxes in a hospital nursery. Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported on a 3-year-old girl who nearly died after an infected scraped knee landed her in a emergency room that lacked proper equipment and antibiotics. Six children died in similar circumstances in the same hospital ward, according to the AP report.

Human Rights Watch says the deteriorating state of Venezuela’s health care has triggered alarming public health trends. The organization accuses the government of “downplaying” the seriousness of the crisis and targeting those who have spoken out about it.

“The Venezuelan government has seemed more vigorous in denying the existence of a humanitarian crisis than in working to resolve it,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Its failures have contributed to the suffering of many Venezuelans who now struggle every day to obtain access to basic health care and adequate nutrition.”

The supply shortages and poor hospital conditions are fueling increased rates of infant mortality, up 45 percent in the first five months of 2016 compared to just three years ago, according to watchdog’s latest report. The 4,074 babies who died before June was 18.5 percent higher than the same period a year earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported. Between 2009 and 2016 maternal mortality rates have also jumped by 79 percent, a metric that impacts child survival rates and development.

Food shortages gripping the country have only compounded the medical problems, with recent anecdotal reports from doctors indicating a rise in child malnutrition cases. When children are malnourished, they’re more vulnerable to contract and die from basic illnesses. The converging crises could soon add further stress to the country’s already beleaguered healthcare system.