Friday May 12, 2017

'Our people are dying': Venezuela's health crisis leaves doctors without medicine

Health-care workers protest against Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro's government about the lack of medicines and low salaries in the country, Feb. 7, 2017.

Health-care workers protest against Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro's government about the lack of medicines and low salaries in the country, Feb. 7, 2017. (Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images)

Listen 18:49

In 2016, more than 11,000 children under the age of one died in Venezuela, according to a new study released by the government on infant mortality rates.

Also last year, 756 women died in childbirth — an increase of 65 per cent from the year before, and cases of malaria jumped 76 per cent.

The staggering numbers are a reality that doctors in Venezuela are dealing with each day, say critics. 

Dr. Maria Alejandra Torres, a hematologist-oncologist in Caracas, says the numbers accurately portray the health crisis in her country.

"The situation in Venezuela is getting from bad to worse," she tells The Current's Friday host Kelly Crowe.

"Our people are dying," Dr. Torres says of her cancer patients who can't get treatment.

She explains that health professionals do not have access to medications in hospitals or pharmacies.

It is up to the patients to source necessary medicine — often times by going over the border to Columbia and bringing it back, says Torres.

"They have to bring that to us and then we only give the service to apply the treatment."

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Health-care workers carry a banner that demands "Health now" during a demonstration against Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro. (Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images)

The medical crisis have led 13,000 doctors to leave Venezuela to work elsewhere, Torres says, usually because they have a relative in another country to help with the transfer.

In order to remedy this dire situation, Torres suggests the country has to prepare new doctors to take over as well as work on restoring a relationship with pharmaceutical companies "to recover their confidence."

"[Hugo] Chavez made a big mistake in his government in the past because he didn't apply any money to the public hospitals," explains Torres pointing to the dire need to invest in the public system in order to provide adequate health care to Venezuelans.

"We have some kind of hope because many people — the whole country — is getting together to fight and just to say, 'we don't want this anymore.'"  

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Dr. Marianella Herrara says people in Venezuela queue to buy basic food and household items sometimes for very long hours. (AFP/Getty Images)

Hunger in Venezuela

It's not just medicine that is a health concern, Venezuelans are also dealing with a food crisis and often don't get enough food to eat. 

In March, a basket of basic grocery items such as eggs, milk and fruit costs close to four times the monthly minimum wage.

Dr. Marianella Herrera​, director of the Venezuelan Health Observatory, tells Crowe that more than nine million of Venezuelans eat two meals a day or less.

"Families cannot afford proper meals and they prefer not to send the children to school because ... they haven't eaten in several days properly, and they cannot function very well."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese and Lara O'Brien.