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Bed net distribution in Sifontes, Bolivar State

Addressing mounting health needs in Venezuela

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Médecins Sans Frontières is expanding its medical activities in Venezuela, where years of economic and political crisis are taking a heavy toll on households and health facilities alike.

With hyperinflation reaching over two million percent this year according to the IMF, the situation in Venezuela has been further exacerbated recently by a power blackout that affected some regions for up to three months, and continuous water outages.

“This has an impact on households and struggling health facilities countrywide. Hospitals and clinics in areas where MSF is present have long suffered a lack of medical supplies and staff, and dysfunctional water and sanitation systems,” explains Tara Newell, MSF emergency support manager.

Last month, MSF started assessing health needs in different parts of the country and began rehabilitating sections of the 302-bed Vargas Hospital, one of the reference hospitals in the capital, Caracas. These works are part of a collaboration with the Venezuelan health authorities that is set to expand over the next two years, including the training of personnel and the provision of materials.

MSF has been working alongside local organisations and public institutions in Caracas since 2016, providing medical and psychological assistance to victims of violence, including sexual violence.

From January to June 2019, the teams treated 1,635 people for mental health issues, organised 327 group mental health sessions, and supported 100 victims of sexual violence.

Mental Health in Venezuela
A woman walks through the district of Petare, Caracas, considered to be one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Latin America. The graffiti on the wall reads: “Anyone who steals will die.” Venezuela, November 2016.
Marta Soszynska/MSF

Another worrying consequence of the decline in Venezuela’s health system is the rise in preventable diseases such as malaria, of which there has been a significant increase in cases due to the lack of effective epidemic control.

MSF supports the national malaria programme in Sifontes, in Bolivar state, an area with numerous informal gold mines, where malaria has spread rapidly due to the high mobility of the population, the poor conditions in which they are living, and a serious lack of resources for the malaria control programme.

Since 2018, MSF teams have tested more than 290,000 people for malaria, treated more than 162,000 for the disease, and distributed more than 76,000 mosquito nets to prevent new infections.

Since February 2019, MSF has also been working with the Malaria Institute in Carúpano, in Sucre state, on the Caribbean Sea. Teams are currently working in the four locations with the highest number of cases, providing supplies, facilitating data collection, implementing health promotion and vector control measures, training medical staff, and supporting the identification, diagnosis and treatment of new cases.

In Anzoátegui, MSF partners with a local organization called Fe y Alegría to provide primary healthcare to the vulnerable communities of El Vidono, close to the state capital, Barcelona. The project addresses family planning, sexual and reproductive health, sexual violence and malaria in a school located between Bolívar and Sotillo municipalities. With a student population of 1,670 from a total of 756 families, 3,547 consultations were provided in the first five months of 2019 alone.

MSF is ready to respond to other medical needs resulting from the economic, political and social crisis in Venezuela, including outbreaks of violence. Teams also support Venezuelans on the other side of the border in Colombia, where thousands flee every day due to the insecurity and the lack of food and access to quality healthcare at home.

In 2018, we started providing additional medical and mental healthcare, and water and sanitation services, for Venezuelans arriving in Roraima state, Brazil. 

MSF has been working in Venezuela since 2015. Teams are currently working in the capital, Caracas, and in Bolivar, Sucre and Anzoátegui states. Between 2016 and early 2018 we also provided medical care in Maracaibo, in the northwest of the country. MSF is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation. Our work in Venezuela is funded exclusively by private donations from individuals around the world.

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Project Update 17 July 2019