Venezuela: Hospitals without medicines

According to estimates by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Venezuela was the main importer of medicines in Latin America in 2013 with purchases of USD3.7 billion. The fall since then has been blistering. The collapse of the price of oil after 2014 has left the government without foreign exchange to import basic products nor to distribute among the already scarce Venezuelan pharmaceutical industry, now without access to inputs to produce. According to United Nations figures, between 2013 and 2015, the decrease in the import of medicines was 39.1% in the country. The Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimated the shortage of medicines last year at 80%. The government prevents the entry of humanitarian aid because, according to critics of the regime, this would imply acknowledging the existence of the crisis.

Many people appeal to international donations, for which many NGOs have been mobilized, to exchange or purchase medicines on the black market as alternatives. The NGO “A Medicine for Venezuela” is one of those organizations that collects medicines to help patients trapped without treatment. The organization sends the medicines through local companies that must draw a series of obstacles at the end of which is SENIAT, the Venezuelan customs authority. It prohibits private transportation of medicines and food, in addition to prohibiting corruption in customs. Once the numerous barriers are overcome, the help network must be careful not to attract attention to large storage areas for pain medicines as a they may be accused of hoarding drugs or contraband. The Venezuelan NGO “Codevida” oversees the distribution on the ground by means of a telephone drugstore. The pharmacy went from receiving 300 calls a month in 2016 to 5,000 this year. Codevida gathers information on the most demanded medicines, including those needed for organ transplant operations, analgesics for terminals, drugs for multiple sclerosis, hepatitis. In the process, there is a base of 30 fixed volunteers who manage the donations, most of which are processed by the Facebook page or with contributions from laboratories and pharmacies.

The experts of the Venezuelan Society of Cardiology have coordinated a survey about the 43 main health centers of focused on the endowment to treat cardiovascular diseases. 75% of hospitals had no aspirin, an essential drug for the treatment of heart disease. Patients with heart attacks are being treated as they were 40 years ago, when the incidence of deaths for this reason reached 15%. The government has not released mortality figures since 2013. That makes it difficult to know the real dimensions of the crisis.


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