Friday, November 08, 2013

Blog #9: Venezuela’s Health Care Collapsing after Years of Deterioration

     Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro stated early this week there will be reorganization for their economic system to help boost their economy. Before the former President Hugo Chavez died this past March, he put into play in 1999 their free universal health care system. Unfortunately the strict currency controls he installed to prevent capital flight, has caused struggles for the oil-rich country with under stocked market shelves and inflation approaching 50 percent. Venezuela’s government also controls the dollars needed to buy medical supplies and have not made enough available causing shortages and overtaxing of equipment. Doctors have reported that if they had the medicine, medical supplies and equipment that they have been lacking, there would not be as many deaths from easy treatable illnesses. Almost everything needed to mend and heal is in critically short supply: ranging from needles to blood for transfusions. The country has 100 fully functioning public hospitals, however, nine in 10 have just 7% of the supplies they need. In the private hospitals and clinics they too are overburdened and lacking supplies, of which 95% must be imported. This leaves patients in need of critical care feeling helpless and scared as they clutch to their lives and wait. 

     Dr. Douglas Natera, president of the Venezuelan Medical Foundation stated their frustration and how two months ago they asked the government to declare an emergency, but failed to get back a response. Government price caps that were set in July for common procedures have made it impossible for doctors to meet. Most of Venezuela’s medical equipment is bought from Cuba, China, or Argentina, rather than directly from the manufacturer, which has led to abuse and wasteful spending. One doctor stated, “We have some antibiotics but they aren’t usually appropriate for what you are specifically treating.” Around half of the public health system’s doctors have quit, and some of them moved abroad. Various public hospitals that were originally opened when Chavez took office have been replaced by a system of walk-in clinics run by Cuban doctors who do not treat serious illnesses. Due to inflation, there has been a wage crunch which has left many of the understaffed and overworked medical support staff to exit as well. At Maracay’s Central Hospital, one of Venezuela’s biggest medical facilities, mattresses are missing, broken windows need repaired, paint is peeling off walls, and leaking rusty pipes are left exposed. Medical students revealed the scenes in their public hospitals of broken anesthesia machines, closed cafeterias, foul odors, and water leaking from pipes which continues to seep into patient’s rooms. Dr. Joes Felix Oletta, the previous health minister, stated, “While the public health care system had its problems, the current Cuban-run program of 1,200 clinics is a politically motivated waste of billions.” He went on to say the Chavista system reversed important gains against tropical diseases and Dengue fever is making a worrisome comeback. While President Maduro is taking steps to get their economy back on track, the sick wait and pray to receive the free health care that was promised to them. 

Elaine Etzler
8:08 AM

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