Venezuela: MSF forced to withdraw from Pérez de Leon II Hospital in Caracas

VENEZUELA 2020 © Carlos Becerra/MSF

Caracas/New York, November 24, 2020—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been forced to withdraw from the Ana Francisca Pérez de León II hospital, in Petare, northeast Caracas, where it has been supporting the COVID-19 response since March, the medical humanitarian organization announced Tuesday. This decision was made following months of entry restrictions imposed on MSF’s specialist humanitarian personnel, which made it impossible for MSF to carry out essential activities necessary for the care of COVID-19 patients.

"We have spent months looking for possible alternatives that would have allowed us to avoid reaching this outcome, but it is not possible for us to continue to work with the Pérez de León II hospital," said MSF's general coordinator in Venezuela, Isaac Alcalde.

MSF, which ran an intensive care unit at the hospital and was treating patients in critical condition, requested work permits for its essential staff at the beginning of the year to fill key positions in its project. It has yet to receive a response from the relevant authorities. Since then, MSF has repeatedly been in contact with authorities to try to find a solution.

The collaboration with the Pérez de León II hospital in response to COVID-19, began in March with the rehabilitation of the hospital’s biosafety area and the design of new pathways for patients receiving medical and psychological care. MSF then set-up a new inpatient ward, including an intensive care unit, by refurbishing and adapting an old wing of the hospital. MSF ran a team of almost 150 people, including doctors, epidemiologists, nurses, psychologists, technicians and hygienists, who treated COVID-19 patients in the biosafety area. In total, around 3,500 people have been screened for COVID-19 by MSF in this project.

MSF also provided financial support to almost 100 direct employees of the hospital, so they could continue to work there. In addition, MSF's work had an impact on other areas of the hospital, as has been recognized by the hospital management itself. Training and donations of clinical supplies have improved care for patients admitted to the hospital with other illnesses, and have improved the safety of other hospital staff.

MSF will gradually withdraw from the hospital. While it does so, it will place special emphasis on training staff to safely and effectively treat COVID-19.

“Given the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 patients, MSF will leave some medical supplies and has made a donation of medicines to the hospital. We have also trained hospital staff in order to strengthen the application of medical protocols. Our very positive relationship with them has greatly benefitted patients,” said Alcalde.

MSF reiterates its commitment to continue assisting the Venezuelan people and urges national authorities to facilitate the arrival of humanitarian personnel, so it can continue providing quality medical care to those who need it most.

In Venezuela, MSF has adapted its projects in response to the COVID-19 health emergency, to give priority to the most vulnerable groups it is assisting in Anzoátegui, Amazonas, Bolívar, Sucre, Táchira and Miranda, and the Capital District, where it currently supports 39 health facilities. In the first six months of this year, MSF conducted almost 80,000 medical consultations, 42,500 health promotion awareness-raising sessions and more than 5,000 training sessions for medical and non-medical personnel. MSF tested almost 110,000 people for malaria, with 25,000 positive cases diagnosed and receiving treatment. In the municipality of Sifontes in Bolívar state alone, MSF contributed to a 60 percent reduction in the number of positive cases of malaria between 2017 and 2020.