Venezuela to Invest €293m to Modernise Public Health System as National Nurses’ Strike Continues

Maduro has called for a “revolution within the revolution” in the health sector.

By Paul Dobson
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Caracas’ Children’s Heart Hospital is one of the many sites due to benefit from this injection of funding
Caracas’ Children’s Heart Hospital is one of the many sites due to benefit from this injection of funding. (Archive)

Merida, July 23, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s government has taken steps to address the country’s deteriorating public health system this week, including releasing €293 million worth of funds earmarked for upgrading equipment and restock dwindling medicine supplies. There has been growing pressure for gubermental action in the sector, especially from an on-going nurses’ strike.

“Today we have dedicated various hours to inspect the problems [in the health sector]… we are going to recuperate everything that needs it,” stated President Nicolas Maduro, following a special meeting of his health cabinet this weekend.

Of the announced investment, Maduro stated that €168 million is to be spent importing hemodialysis kits and equipment, €83 million for high cost oncological, transplant, and AIDS-HIV drugs and equipment, €4 million for blood-related medicine and equipment, €2 million for the rehabilitation of the symbolic Children’s Heart Hospital in Caracas, and €28 million for other common medicines.

Apart from the investment plans, the president also convened a national health congress for August 25, which will look to address issues relating to the “transformation” of the health system, as well finding ways to “substitute [medical] imports for local, national production.” He also called on the health professionals to assist his efforts, calling for them to lead “a revolution within the revolution,” and to assist in modernising the sector.

Likewise, the recently re-elected president attended the graduation of 6,381 integral community doctors – or a “white coated army” as he called them – this Thursday. The new health professionals, who include an important inaugural contingent of specialists from the Hugo Chavez University of Health Sciences, will provide important coverage for a medical system increasing devoid of trained staff.

Integral community doctors differ from traditional physicians in their holistic and preventative approach to medicine, which is heavily influenced by the Cuban medical system. They are often the first point of contact for isolated Venezuelan communities, including staffing local health clinics known as integral diagnostic centers (CDIs) as part of the Barrio Adentro social program.

The government’s moves came as Venezuela’s nurses entered their fourth week of nationwide strike action, demanding better wages and working conditions as well as highlighting the need for increased maintenance and supplying of the country’s medical infrastructure. Maduro made no mention of the strike upon announcing the health measures.

The striking nurses solidified their actions this week, vowing in popular assemblies to not let up until their demands are met.

Numerous other groups of workers, including doctors, have recently expressed solidarity with the nurses, whilst electrical and telecommunications workers have followed the health professionals’ lead in launching similar independent strike action.

Conditions in Venezuela’s public health system have been declining for some years due to underinvestment, a migratory exodus of trained personnel, and shortages in both medical supplies and repair parts for medical equipment. Wages have also been sharply eroded by hyperinflation.

Existing problems of medical shortages have been exasperated by sanctions emitted by the US, Switzerland, Canada, and the European Union, which look to put pressure on the Maduro government by obstructing access to the international financial system.

In this context, President Maduro this week denounced that US $1.4 billion of Venezuelan funds – which were destined for importing vital health supplies – are allegedly being held illegally by the US government and the EU. While no evidence was provided to support the claim, the Venezuelan government has made similar accusations in the past.