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Health in Venezuela Remains in the Hands of its Citizens

Fotografía tomada de Wikimedia Commons.

The medication shortage, which has already hit the Venezuelans hard for some time now, has become even worse within the last few months. In response, the citizens, networks, and support systems try to confront a problem that affects a group, which progressively includes more and more of the population. In the image, a patient from the children's division of patients with cancer in Maracaibo, a city located in the west side of the country.  Wikimedia Commons image.

The health crisis in Venezuela has been thoroughly raked over by international media and is one of the most turbulent debates taking place inside the South American country at present.

The Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela estimates that the medication shortage is approaching 85%.

Faced with these numbers, the Venezuelan Parliament passed an agreement that declared a humanitarian crisis in the country, with the purpose of forcing the tottering government of President Nicolás Maduro to accept international aid.

So far there have been conversations between lawmakers and the World Health Organization, but without the executive branch of government involved little progress can be expected.

The stark reality is that Venezuelans continue to resort to social media and the support of others in order to obtain medication.

Twitter accounts like Servicio Público Vzla (@spvzla), Akistá (@Akiztapp), Ayuda SOS Venezuela (@AyudaSOSVzla), Medicinas Venezuela (@SeBuscaSeDona), DonaMed Venezuela (DonaMed_VE),  (@DONANDOTRATAMI) and the hashtags #medicinas (medicines) #ServicioPublico (public service) #SOSsaludVe y #MedicinasVenezuela (Medicines Venezuela) are among the most used for locating and donating medicines.

Some of these accounts require a doctor's prescription as a way of preventing those who do not need the medicine from obtaining it and reselling it.

Furthermore, the names of the medicines are published in accordance with the city or state in which they are found, since shipping them through private mail service or via other delivery methods is not possible.

Since the national government prohibited the shipment of medical treatments via mail in 2014, the geographic location of the patient, with respect to medicine, can be yet another barrier to obtaining medication through these means.

Netizens Resist

Ivonne Capecchi is a Venezuelan artist who lives in the city of Valencia, located 172 km away from the country's capital.

From the beginning of April Capecchi has been weaving a network of help into her Facebook profile for children at the Central Hospital of Valencia.

Capecchi started to get involved with the families after visiting Gerald, a child with cancer, and confirmed the great shortages within the hospital.

In addition to Gerald, other children were also suffering from serious limitations.

Due to a lack of resources, some of the children in Gerald's ward could not go home.

One of the other babies suffers from hydrocephaly and needs certain medication which is not affordable and which the hospital still has not obtained.

Part of this experience was narrated in a public message on her Facebook wall:

Hola amigos …ya he escrito tanto sobre Gerald … Que el teléfono lo pone sólo.
Les conté que ayer fui al hospital a conocerlo. Sali consternada del Hospital , hay una camineria que es un largooo pasillo para acceder a una de las áreas del hospital [y no cabe nada para que los familiares puedan acompañarlo…] Les diré algo, involúcrense, vayan conociendo las páginas de donación por que en este desatre de país NO HAY NADA y en cualquier momento les puede tocar y entenderán que la verdadera desgracia de este país (aparte de sus gobernantes claro) es la CRISIS DE SALUD!!! Por allí explotara este país…

Hi friends… I have already written so much about Gerald …. That the phone basically writes it for me now.

I told you that yesterday I went to the hospital to get to know it. I left the hospital in dismay. There is an entrance which is a long hallway to access one of the areas of the hospital (there's no room for family members to accompany you…). I'll l tell you something, get involved, get to know the donation websites because THERE IS NOTHING in this disaster of a country, and at any moment it could happen to you and then you will understand that the true misfortune of this country (besides, of course, its government leaders) is the HEALTH CRISIS!!! It's a bomb ready to blow…

Since then, some of Capecchi's friends have joined her in her weekly visits to the health center.

Thanks to help and donations they received (some from outside the country) by posting on social media, many children have been able to survive.

Caso LUISITO nene que fue operado gracias a la Donación desde el Perú del Botón Gástrico luego de tres años esperando […] Recuerden que perdió el esófago por ingerir ácido para limpiar aires acondicionados . Les cuento todo amigos [porque] las cosas buenas también hay que contarlas. Hoy el Dr Jiver Morillo lo vio gratuitamente y le realizaron en la Clínica La Viña en Valencia, también gratuitamente su estudio con contraste ,el cual nunca había podido hacerse por falta de dinero…

In Luisito's case, a child who was operated on after three months of waiting, thanks to the donation of a gastric tube from Peru […] Remember that he lost the oesophagus by ingesting an acid used for cleaning air conditioners. I tell you all of this friends [because] the good things also need to be told. Today Dr. Jiver Morillo saw him, free of charge, and the Clínica La Viña in Valencia, also examined him free of charge, which they had never been able to do before due to a lack of money…

Currently, Ivonne Capecchi and the other people who have joined her in her effort to provide help to these families of limited resources, are considering forming a foundation in order to organize work along with the donations.

However, these efforts arrived too late for seven children who lost their lives while waiting for treatment or due to complications associated with the poor state of the hospital facilities:

Se murió Moisés está tarde misma buscábamos EPAMIN logramos conseguirlo pero se murió […] Saben que? Ahora son 7 los nenes muertos ,no puedo con tanto en menos de tres días he visto dos familias destrozadas, arrasadas,muertas de dolor y pena.

Moisés died this afternoon while we were looking for EPAMIN. We were able to get it, but he died […] You know what? That makes seven dead children.  I can't take it any longer with so many in less than three days.  I've seen two families destroyed, devastated, dead from the pain and sorrow.

A report from the Venezuelan digital media, El Pitazo, also describes hospital conditions and limited access to medication.

The report corroborates Capecchi's descriptions (a subtitled version of this video can be found here):

Minorities without Rights

In the Venezuelan health crisis, those who are most affected are those who can't afford private health centers or buy medicine overseas.

These groups not only include low income families, but also the indigenous population.

Reporter and Global Voices contributor, Minerva Vitti, reported on this topic in December 2015. Her post shows how for some time already the conditions of the Warao community have been extremely hard.

The community either lacks access to the country's health network, or to the electricity that powers hospitals and clinics:

Los generadores eléctricos del hospital están dañados desde hace varios meses y los repuestos para su reparación no pueden conseguirse en Venezuela debido a la crisis de importación de diferentes equipos eléctrictos. Esto hace que el lugar dependa de la planta del pueblo que brinda un servicio muy irregular.

Hace varios días uno de los habitantes de la zona denunciaba que tenían 20 días sin luz. Los médicos deben atender muchas de las emergencias con velas y más de un niño ha muerto, especialmente por síndrome de meconio, en el que los recién nacidos mueren al inhalar sus primeras heces durante el parto, pues muchas veces al momento del alumbramiento se ha ido la luz en el hospital.

The hospital's electric generators have been broken for months now and they can't get the parts to repair them in Venezuela due to the import crisis of different electrical equipment. This means that they depend on the town plant, which provides a very inconsistent service.

Several days ago, one of the residents in the area reported that they were without electricity for 20 days. The doctors have to attend to many emergencies with candles and more than one child has died, specifically from Meconium Syndrome, in which newborns die from inhaling their own feces during birth. The electricity at the hospital has gone out many times at the time of birth.

La ambulancia fluvial del hospital también está dañada. En una ocasión debieron trasladar a un bebé de seis meses con un cuadro diarréico fuerte hasta el hospital en Tucupita, a cinco horas de navegación dependiendo de la potencia del motor y la marea. El traslado fue imposible. El doctor y los familiares tuvieron que resignarse.

The river ambulance is also broken. On one occasion they needed to transport a 6-month-old baby with severe diarrhetic symptoms to the hospital in Tucupita, a 5-hour boat trip depending on the power of the motor and the tide. The trip was impossible. The doctor and the family members had to give up.

Meanwhile HIV/AIDS carriers, living in indigenous communities have it even harder than urban dwellers who have already been strongly affected by the medication crisis within the indigenous communities.

Vitti reported last year on alarming prevalence of the disease which seems likely to continue its destructive path in parts of a country where public healthcare long ago ceased being an attainable goal:

En 2007 la Cruz Roja Venezolana había identificado 15 casos de VIH en la comunidad […] . Hoy hay presencia de VIH en 26 comunidades warao. La comunidad que está al frente de Jeukubaca desapareció hace dos años.

In 2007 the Venezuelan Red Cross identified 15 cases of HIV within the community […]. Today there is presence of HIV in 26 Warao communities. The leading community, Jeukubaca, disappeared two years ago.

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