Venezuela’s medical practitioners are literally putting their lives at risk because the impoverished health care system offers little or no personal protection equipment.
Many Venezuelan health workers have died from coronavirus. There are 115 people on the fast-expanding list.
According to the Pan American Health Organisation, in Latin America alone, 570,000 medics have contracted Covid-19 and 2,500 have died. “They are working under more stressful conditions than any of us could imagine,” Carissa Etienne, Paho’s director, said.
But while medics in most countries can count on at least basic personal protective equipment, doctors and nurses in Venezuela often work with the bare minimum. Mauro Zambrano, a health worker and union leader, said that of the 16 hospitals he monitors in Caracas, nine have no masks or gloves and seven no clean water. Most have no bleach and none has disinfectant or soap.
A doctor at a hospital in the west of Caracas said his clinic has had to improvise throughout the pandemic. “Everyone has to bring their own gel and protective equipment,” he said. Protective gloves dry in the sun at a hospital in Caracas.
Medical staff have also been persecuted for speaking out. “In Venezuela today, you can’t even share a private message criticising the Maduro government via WhatsApp without fear of being prosecuted,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch Americas.