Venezuela’s Health Care Crisis
As her 3-month-old daughter was recovering from heart surgery at one of the leading public hospitals in Caracas, Venezuela, doctors told Yamila she needed to go out and buy basic medical supplies for her baby that the hospital had run out of. They gave her a list that included catheters, needles for administering IV fluids, antibiotics and other medications, the mother told a Human Rights Watch researcher in November.
Leaving her daughter’s side, Yamila went on a frantic search for medical supplies so basic that no hospital — let alone one of the country’s largest teaching hospitals — should ever run out of them. But none of the hospitals or pharmacies she visited had them in stock. In the end, despite concerns about the quality of the supplies, and unsure whether she had the correct catheters and needles for a newborn, Yamila had no option but to buy whatever she could find on the black market — with no quality guarantees.
Venezuela’s health care system, long a source of pride for the government, is in deep crisis. Thousands of patients cannot get essential medical treatments, and thousands more have been wait-listed for potentially life-saving surgery because doctors don’t have the materials they need to operate.
The government has been trying to deflect blame, going after directors from a leading pharmacy chain and detaining and questioning doctors who have criticized the shortages. But the government itself has failed to ensure that essential medicines and medical supplies are available in the health care system, while its currency exchange restrictions and price controls interfere with the ability of pharmaceutical companies to sell them. The crash of oil prices, a key source of revenue for the country, has dramatically worsened an already bad situation.