Santa Elena de Uairen, January 27th, 2016. (venezuelanalysis.com)- On Tuesday Venezuela’s opposition-controlled parliament declared a national emergency in healthcare due to the “grave scarcity of medicines and medical supplies, and the deterioration of humanitarian infrastructure.”
The legal body voted to approve an urgent call for Nicolas Maduro to “immediately guarantee access to basic essential medicines.”
Medical professionals in Venezuela began seeing shortages in 2014 due to irregularities in the country’s unique currency exchange laws.
The government's multi-tiered Forex system requires pharmaceutical importers to request dollars from the government, which are allotted at the preferential rate of 6.3 - reserved for "first necessity" items.
While aiming to subsidize the cost of imported goods for Venezuelan consumers, the exchange system also provided unlimited opportunities for fraud and eventually resulted in a US$3 billion debt owed by the government to manufacturers.
Additionally, many items that appeared on paper to have been imported never reached the country, as phony importers preferred to sell the coveted dollars for a profit on the illegal market, where the current rate is 940 bolivars to the dollar.
Several operations led by Venezuelan security forces have also found some companies to be guilty of hoarding medicines in a bid to create artificial shortages, increasing panic amongst citizens.
Today, Venezuelans use social media to locate pharmacies selling scarce items, while others rely on family members traveling abroad to purchase medications that have disappeared from shelves.
To make matters worse, tens of thousands of Venezuelan doctors, including many trained in government programs, have left the country in search of higher salaries abroad.
In Santa Elena de Uairen, a border town of 40,000 residents, the local hospital reports significant understaffing and it is currently unable to deal with simultaneous emergencies, such as multiple victims of a car crash.
Doctors in rural areas regularly work 60+ hours in a week, with medical students filling in the gaps.
“Most of my colleagues have left,” a female doctor who wished to go unnamed told venezuelanalysis.com.
“I will stay here, I am committed to the people. But our work situation is beyond depressing… even things like rubber gloves and gauze are scarce, and we have no money to repair broken equipment.”
The doctor highlighted her particular concern for the mosquito-born Zika virus, which has spread like wildfire across the region since last October and has been linked to birth defects if contracted during pregnancy.
“Venezuela has no endemic disease department, which means there is no authority tracking the situation here. If the statistics don’t exist, the disease doesn’t exist and neither do public service announcements or fumigation campaigns,” she said.
Currently experiencing its worst drought in 47 years, Venezuela is more susceptible than ever to mosquito-born illnesses, as the many tanks and pools in which people store water reserves provide ample breeding ground for carriers.
Although the National Assembly motion drew attention to the deteriorating situation, they have yet to make any moves toward fixing the country’s ailing economy, which is at the root of the problem.
Indeed, last week the legal body rejected an emergency economic plan made by president Nicolas Maduro, who in turn called their veto “unconstitutional.”
Despite calling on Maduro to address their concerns in the medical sector, opposition legislators have also avoided making any direct proposals on how to stabilize the situation or improve the country's public hospitals.
Venezuela’s right-wing opposition currently holds a two-thirds majority in National Assembly. The 54 elected representatives of the ruling socialist party all voted against the document.