Venezuela Launches New Mission for Health of the Disabled

President Hugo Chávez inaugurated a new social program known as the Dr. José Gregorio Hernandez Mission on Saturday, which focuses exclusively on the health of Venezuelans who have disabilities. The main goal of the Mission is to carry out a nation-wide census of disability needs.
Dr. José Gregorio Hernandez, known as the "People's Doctor", who is treated almost as a saint among many Venezuelans.

Mérida, March 17, 2008 (— Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez inaugurated a new social program known as a “mission” on Saturday, which focuses exclusively on the health of Venezuelans who have disabilities. The main goal of the Dr. José Gregorio Hernández Mission, which is inspired by the community health efforts of the legendary “People’s Doctor” of a century ago, is to carry out a door-to-door, nation-wide census to find out how many people have disabilities or genetic diseases and to diagnose their specific needs.

Chávez announced a budget of 592 million bolivars ($275.4 million) for the unprecedented census, which has already been carried out in five of Venezuela’s 23 states since last July, President Chávez explained.

So far, a total of 83,324 people with disabilities have been registered in the states of Miranda, Zulia, Delta Amacuro, Vargas, and Zulia, and in the capital municipality, Libertador, since the mission began there on February 21st of this year, according to a news program on the government television station VTV.

Chávez declared that the project should “incorporate more than the diagnosis… It is necessary to apply preventative programs and cover the immediate fundamental necessities.” He suggested that people with disabilities be “included in art groups, choir, work training programs…we hope that none of them remain out there, excluded and marginalized any more.”

The José Gregorio Hernández Mission is an extension of the Barrio Adentro Mission, which has brought health care to marginalized communities across Venezuela with the help of Cuban doctors as part of the bilateral cooperation accords between Cuba and Venezuela.

Chávez explained Saturday that the new mission will be carried out partially by students in the Venezuelan-Cuban School for Communitarian Integral Medicine. These students do their residency and internships in small clinics in poor communities, systematically recording medical histories in communities with no previous access to health care. Last week, Chávez met directly with communitarian integral medicine students and announced the doubling of their monthly grant for living expenses to 500 bolivars ($233).

In a first stage of the mission, the students will collaborate with “quartets” made up of a genetic disease specialist, a doctor from the local Barrio Adentro Mission, psychology students, and youth social workers from the Francisco de Miranda Front. With support from members of the local community councils, these teams will gather questionnaires regarding physical, visual, mental, and auditory disabilities.

In a second stage, the specific needs of each community will be assessed based on census results, and appropriate treatment will be applied using new medical equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, hearing aids, and special mattresses.

The Cuban Vice Minister of Public Health, Marcia Cobas, who accompanied Chávez Saturday, commented, “The study of disability can only be done in a social manner. One must have sensitivity and be profoundly human. True socialist revolutions necessarily occupy themselves with the most vulnerable parts of society, such as children, the elderly, and those with disabilities.”

Cobas confirmed that during her multi-state tour of Venezuela recently, “everyone expresses that this is the first time a Venezuelan president has paid attention to those with disabilities.”

In addition to its main goals, the mission will also promote the training of doctors, physiatrists, language and physical therapists in the causes, prevention, treatment, and social aspects of disabilities, with a special focus on infants and pregnancy, through the federal Health Ministry.

Minister Erika Farías of the Social Participation and Protection Ministry, which provides administrative support to the mission, emphasized Saturday that “after the mission passes through every community there should be follow-up so that each one of these friends can count on the efforts of Barrio Adentro and the Revolution.”

Various participants in Saturday’s event suggested that a book be published for each state about the specific causes, consequences, and diverse risk factors related to the disabilities of local residents, with a copy of each book available in local Barrio Adentro clinics to guarantee optimum community access to health education.

Ludyt Ramírez, the President of the National Disabled Persons Council, praised the mission, but advocated that public transportation systems also be adapted for use by those with disabilities. Ramírez also pointed out that many public spaces have barriers that limit disabled access.

In response, Chávez called for public transport workers to cultivate sensitivity to the needs of disabled people, and for society to develop a “socialist conscience, the human morale, the human spirit that is essential for achieving a new society…of love, equality, and solidarity.”

Venezuelan Vice President Ramón Carrizalez pointed out that his country is one of the first in the world to offer door-to-door service to the disabled, and Health Minister Jesús Mantilla called the cooperation with Cuba a step forward for “Latin American goodness and integration.”

The Mission Dr. José Gregorio Hernández fulfills the health requirements of the Law for Persons with Disabilities, which was passed by the Venezuelan National Assembly on November 16, 2006. This law also requires that disabled people hold at least 5% of jobs in Venezuelan companies within three years, a step forward from past laws which required a 2% quota only on businesses with more than 50 employees.

This law is based on Article 81 of Venezuela’s constitution, which was passed by popular vote in 1999. The article states: “Every person with a disability or special necessity has the right to the full and autonomous exercise of his or her capacities, and family and community integration.” This right will be guaranteed by “the state, with the supportive participation of the family and society,” in accordance with the article.