Venezuela’s economy is in trouble. With oil accounting for 95 percent of the country’s export earnings, plummeting world prices have sent the South American economy reeling towards collapse.
People are going hungry, inflation has spiralled out of control, the military is patrolling supermarkets to keep order amid rising anger, basic raw materials and supplies have run out, factories are shutting down and there is not enough electricity in the country.
But, the economic crisis is hitting Venezuela’s public health system the hardest.
In the country’s public hospitals, where treatment should be free, medicine, equipment and even food is increasingly not available.
Orfram Moreno, a doctor working in a public hospital in Merida, said patients have to buy what is needed for their treatment privately.
“Most of the time patients die because their families are out of the hospital looking for the treatments and they don’t come at a time we can use the treatment,” he told Al Jazeera.
“When they bring the treatment, the patient’s already dying.”
But, even buying the necessary medicine and equipment in time is not always enough to save a patient’s life in Venezuela.
Luna Martinez’ son, Thiago, urgently needs an operation to stop the swelling on his brain. His family has managed to buy everything necessary for this life-saving operation. But the doctors cannot carry it out because the operating theatre in the hospital is out of action.
“I feel really helpless,” Martinez told Al Jazeera, “Especially this month when we have everything we need for the operation and the operating theatre isn’t fit to use.
“It’s out of our hands, we can’t fix the air conditioning, we can’t decontaminate the place and our boy is getting worse.”
One analyst said the solution to Venezuela’s growing health problem is within the government’s reach, but only if it agrees to change its economic policy drastically.
“If the government decides to lift price controls and end the exchange rate control, the situation can get dramatically better very, very quickly,” Gregory Wilpert, the author of Changing Venezuela By Taking Power, said. “Because in that case there will be no more incentive to smuggle products outside of the country or sell them on the black market.”
Wilpert also told Al Jazeera that a large shipment of medicines, which can save many lives, recently entered Venezuela.
“Ninety-six tonnes of medicines came from China. So the situation will hopefully get a bit better.”