Venezuelan Health Care in Shambles

November 18, 2013

Evelina Gonzalez was supposed to undergo cancer surgery in July following chemotherapy but wound up shuttling from hospital to hospital in search of an available operating table, says the Associated Press.

  • Gonzalez is on a list of 31 breast cancer patients waiting to have tumors removed at one of Venezuela's biggest medical facilities, Maracay's Central Hospital.
  • But like legions of the sick across the country, she's been neglected by a health care system doctors say is collapsing after years of deterioration.
  • Doctors at the hospital sent home 300 cancer patients last month when supply shortages and overtaxed equipment made it impossible for them to perform non-emergency surgeries.

Economists blame government mismanagement and currency controls set by the late President Hugo Chavez for inflation pushing 50 percent annually. The government controls the dollars needed to buy medical supplies and has simply not made enough available.

  • Doctors not allied with the government say many patients began dying from easily treatable illnesses when Venezuela's downward economic slide accelerated after Chavez's death from cancer in March.
  • Doctors say it's impossible to know how many have died, and the government doesn't keep such numbers, just as it hasn't published health statistics since 2010.

Last month, the government suspended organ donations and transplants. At least 70 percent of radiotherapy machines, precisely what Gonzalez will need once her tumor is removed, are now inoperable in a country with 19,000 cancer patients -- meaning fewer than 5,000 can be treated, says Dr. Douglas Natera, president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation.

Source: Frank Bajak, "Doctors Say Venezuela's Health Care in Collapse," Associated Press, November 6, 2013.

 

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