Since 2013, Venezuela has not published official mortality statistics, a huge problem when trying to capture the health crisis that is happening in the country. During the 1950s and 2000, Venezuela had shown a huge improvement in infant mortality reduction, which has now been reversed. The Lancet has stated that the country has wiped out 18 years of gains in infant mortality rates as the country goes through economic and political instability.
Back in 1998 when Hugo Chavez became Venezuela’s president, the country was promised free health care to all. This was followed by a rise in life expectancy and a fall in infant mortality. Venezuela even achieved most of the UN Millennium Development Goals which were set in 2010. However, the economic collapse in 2008 which led to a lower demand for oil, an increase in government spending and price controls led to a fall in GDP, severely affecting the health system. Maternal and infant mortality rates are key indicators that reflect the strength of health systems, and in 2017 the government accidently published figures which showed that Venezuela had a 65% increase in maternal mortality and 30% increase in infant mortality between 2015 and 2016. Back in 2009, the maternal mortality rate was 60 per 100,000 live births. 2015 saw a dramatic increase to 95 per 100,000, and in just one year during 2016, the figure further increased to 112 deaths per 100,000. These figures were immediately taken down from the health ministry’s webpage because of the uproar that occurred as the public discovered these facts. The Health Minister Antonieta Caporale was replaced.
During 2015 and 2016, there was a 3.3% reduction in public health spending. However. the reduction started back in 2007 leading to a shortage in medical supplies and vaccination drives. The Venezuelan Ministry of Health has stopped vaccinating children under five against polio, tetanus, diptheria, pertussis, hepatitis B and influenza type B, which has contributed to an increase in disease and mortality. In addition, 61.2% of the population was living in extreme poverty in 2017 and 89.4% didn’t have enough money to buy food, contributing to malnutrition and starvation. This further increases mortality rates. Malnourished Venezuelan mothers giving birth to underweight babies are likely to affect generations to come. Basic medicines listed by the WHO as essential are no longer available, and surgical equipment is also in short supply. 14% of intensive care units have been shut down and 79% of 137 public and private hospitals have no water at all. Colombian cities bordering Venezuela have seen an influx of Venezuelans, particularly pregnant women trying to receive care. Amnesty International have called this phenomenon the ‘exodus’ of pregnant women as women are afraid they will die during labor.
Unfortunately, the current President Nicolas Maduro is refusing to accept international aid into the country, magnifying the current situation. The government refuses to call the situation in Venezuela a humanitarian crisis despite the rest of the world thinking so. They in fact refuse to acknowledge that a crisis even exists at all. State media doesn’t talk about the dire picture of the health system but only about the great support schemes, creating a completely false picture of the current reality.
People are dying in Venezuela from a completely preventable economic and political war, not because the country lacks capacity. The violation of human rights, preventable deaths, and the existence of a humanitarian emergency means there should have been action yesterday. No action, will result in the country’s progress being set back even further than 18 years.
Jean M. Bouquet, DO, is an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Co-Director of the Urban Underserved Track at the Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine. He is the founder of the Bouquet Speculum, an innovative and FDA-cleared medical device that helps to screen women for cervical cancer. Dr. Bouquet also started the Cure Cervical Cancer nonprofit. The following blog post was written by Dr. Bouquet about his journey to creating the Bouquet Speculum.
Dr. Daniel Kimani is a trained and licensed medical officer in Kenya, holding a Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery, and a post-graduate certificate on basic oncology training. Dr. Kimani is the founder of the Global Cancer Care and Research Institute, and is an expert in clinical colposcopy — a procedure to examine the cervix, vagina, and vulva.