Researchers warn of rise in infectious diseases amid spike in levels of malnutrition and infant and maternal mortality
The UN must officially declare a full-scale humanitarian emergency in Venezuela after the “utter collapse” of the health system, experts have said.
Warning of the return of infectious diseases and rising levels of malnutrition and infant and maternal death, a report published this week by Human Rights Watch and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health calls on the UN secretary general, António Guterres, to declare a “complex humanitarian emergency”.
The researchers behind the study, who claim the Maduro administration’s response has been inadequate, say an official declaration will fully unlock and mobilise food, medicine and healthcare for millions in need.
“No matter how hard they try, Venezuelan authorities cannot hide the reality on the ground,” said Shannon Doocy, associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins University, who conducted research at Venezuela’s border.
“Venezuela’s health system is in utter collapse, which, combined with widespread food shortages, is piling suffering upon suffering and putting even more Venezuelans at risk. We need UN leadership to help end this severe crisis and save lives.”
Last month, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies announced it would scale up operations in Venezuela to provide aid to 650,000 people. But a UN report leaked to the media at the same time estimated the number of people in need was closer to 7 million.
Using data from international health agencies such as the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, combined with government statistics, the report claims that:
Maternal mortality rose 65%, and infant mortality rose 30% in 2016
More than 9,300 cases of measles have been reported, with more than 6,200 confirmed, since 2017 – a dramatic rise compared with the period between 2008-15, when only one case was reported
Since July 2016, more than 2,500 cases of diphtheria have been reported since July 2016, with more than 1,500 confirmed. None were recorded between 2006-15
Confirmed malaria cases have increased more than tenfold, from fewer than 36,000 in 2009 to 414,000 in 2017
Tuberculosis cases have increased from 6,000 in 2014 to 13,000 in 2017
In 2018, nearly nine out of 10 Venezuelans living with HIV and registered by the government were not receiving antiretroviral treatment
Guterres must also urge Venezuelan authorities to grant UN staff full access to national disease, epidemiological, food security and nutrition data to carry out an independent and comprehensive needs assessment, the researchers said.
“The United Nations’ leadership needs to ring the alarm bell and oversee a full-scale assistance plan for Venezuela that is neutral, independent and impartial,” said Paul Spiegel, director of the Johns Hopkins centre for humanitarian health.
“From a technical perspective, Venezuela is facing a complex humanitarian emergency; if the UN secretary general does not officially recognise it, the full-scale UN involvement that is needed to address it will most likely not occur.”
The report, which interviewed more than 150 people, found chronic food shortages meant many Venezuelans eat just one meal a day due, which for some entailed nothing but yuca (cassava) or tinned sardines. A survey by three universities in Venezuela found that 80% of the country’s households do not have a reliable source of food, and that nearly two-thirds of people surveyed had lost an average of 11kg (1.7 stone) in 2017.
“Venezuelan authorities publicly minimise and suppress information about the crisis, and harass and retaliate against those who collect data or speak out about it, while also doing far too little to alleviate it,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
“These authorities are accountable for the needless loss of life that its denial and obstruction have inflicted on the Venezuelan people.”
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