Venezuela health system ‘grossly unprepared’ for COVID-19 crisis

Venezuela has 1,177 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10 deaths, but rights groups say the real numbers are much higher.

Venezuela coronavirus
People queueing to receive food from a charity, in the slum of Carapita, during the nationwide quarantine in Caracas, Venezuela [Manaure Quintero/Reuters]

The Venezuelan healthcare system is “grossly unprepared” to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, further “jeopardising the health of Venezuelans and threatening to contribute to spread of the disease”, human rights groups and healthcare experts said on Tuesday. 

Human Rights Watch and the Johns Hopkins University’s Centers for Public Health and Human Rights said in a new report that ensuring that sufficient humanitarian aid reaches the Venezuelan people is urgently needed.

Venezuela so far has 1,177 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10 deaths, but the real numbers are believed to be much higher, given the limited testing and access to reliable information.

“The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the breakdown of the health system have created dangerous conditions conducive to rapid community spread, unsafe working conditions for health personnel, and high mortality rate among patients in need of hospital treatment,” said Kathleen Page, a physician and faculty member of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Centers.

“Venezuela’s lack of capacity to confront the COVID-19 pandemic may drive people to try to leave the country, further straining the health systems of neighbouring countries and imperilling regional health more broadly,” Page said.

According to the report, Venezuela’s health system has collapsed amid shortages of medications and health supplies, interruptions of basic utilities at healthcare facilities, and the emigration of healthcare workers has led to a progressive decline in healthcare operational capacity.

The report also stressed that humanitarian aid is urgently needed to assist the Venezuelan people. 

Venezuelan citizens waiting outside the Venezuelan consulate in Quito, Ecuador to return to their country [Jose Jacome/EPA]

According to the Global Health Security Index, Venezuela ranked among the countries least prepared to mitigate the spread of an epidemic in 2019.

The Venezuelan government declared a state of emergency on March 13 and instituted a nationwide quarantine on March 17, restricting movement and mandating the closure of all non-essential businesses.

The report notes that the lockdown measures are enforced by police, armed forces, a special police force called FAES, and armed pro-government gangs – leading to arbitrary arrests and harassment.

On March 17, President Nicolas Maduro’s government requested an emergency $5bn loan from the International Monetary Fund to combat the epidemic, which the IMF rejected, stating there was “no clarity” regarding the “official government recognition by the international community”.

On Tuesday, the European Union with the support of the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration held an online international donors conference to raise funds for Venezuelan refugees, migrants and host communities. 

More than five million people have fled Venezuela since 2015 due to political instability and economic collapse that has left many unable to obtain basic goods.

The conference is expected to result in millions of euros in pledges that will fund humanitarian assistance and development projects in Venezuela.

Source: Al Jazeera