Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is expanding its medical activities in Venezuela, where years of economic and political crisis are taking a heavy toll on people’s lives.
With hyperinflation reaching over two million percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, the situation in Venezuela has grown worse recently due to a power blackout that affected some regions for up to three months, on top of continuous water outages. “This has an impact on households and struggling health facilities countrywide. Hospitals and clinics in areas where MSF is present have long suffered from a lack of medical supplies and staff, and dysfunctional water and sanitation systems,” explains Tara Newell, MSF emergency support manager.
Last month, MSF started assessing health needs in different parts of the country and began rehabilitating sections of the 302-bed Vargas hospital in the capital, Caracas. This work is part of a collaboration with the Venezuelan health authorities that is set to expand over the next two years, including the training of personnel and the provision of materials.
MSF has been working alongside local organizations and public institutions in Caracas since 2018, providing medical and psychological assistance to victims of violence, including sexual violence. From January to June 2019, the teams treated 1,635 people for mental health issues, organized 327 group mental health sessions, and supported 100 victims of sexual violence.
Another worrying consequence of the decline in Venezuela’s health system is the rise in preventable diseases such as malaria, with a significant increase in cases due to the lack of effective epidemic control. MSF supports the national malaria program in Sifontes, in Bolivar state, an area with numerous unregulated gold mines, where the disease has spread rapidly due to the high mobility of the population, the poor conditions in which they are living, and a serious lack of resources for malaria control efforts.
Since 2018, MSF teams have tested more than 290,000 people for malaria, treated more than 162,000 for the disease, and distributed more than 76,000 mosquito nets to prevent new infections. Since February 2019, MSF has also been working with the Malaria Institute in Carúpano, in Sucre state, on the Caribbean coast. Teams are currently working in the four locations with the highest number of cases, providing supplies, facilitating data collection, implementing health promotion and vector control measures, training medical staff, and supporting the identification, diagnosis, and treatment of new cases.
In Anzoátegui, MSF partners with a local organization called Fe y Alegría to provide primary health care to the vulnerable communities of El Vidono, close to the state capital, Barcelona. The project addresses family planning, sexual and reproductive health, sexual violence, and malaria in a school located between Bolívar and Sotillo municipalities. With a student population of 1,670 from a total of 756 families, 3,547 consultations were provided in the first five months of 2019 alone.
MSF is ready to respond to other medical needs resulting from the economic, political, and social crisis in Venezuela, including outbreaks of violence. Teams also support Venezuelans on the other side of the border in Colombia, where more than 1.3 million people have fled due to insecurity, lack of food, and limited access to quality health care at home—and thousands more arrive every day. In 2018, we started providing additional medical and mental health care, and water and sanitation services for Venezuelans arriving in Roraima state, Brazil.
MSF has been working in Venezuela since 2015. Teams are currently working in the capital, Caracas, and in Bolivar, Sucre, and Anzoátegui states. Between 2016 and early 2018 we also provided medical care in Maracaibo, in the northwest of the country. MSF is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organization. Our work in Venezuela is funded exclusively by private donations from individuals around the world.