Eradicated diseases return amid Venezuela’s crisis

Illnesses such as measles and diphtheria have re-emerged at alarming rates in Venezuela at a time when 22,000 doctors have left the country and 75 percent of hospitals lack basic medicines typically available in functioning hospitals.

Interim President Juan Guaidó lays the blame squarely at the feet of Nicolás Maduro. “Health systems have collapsed, a growing number of children are suffering from malnutrition, and previously eradicated illnesses have re-emerged,” he writes in the New York Times.

The World Health Organization declared record cases of measles, diphtheria and malaria in Venezuela in 2018. Only two years ago, the organization granted the Americas a certificate of eradication for measles — a world first. Now, the Western Hemisphere is fighting off its return.

“The devastation of the health care system and the shortages of food and medical supplies have spurred outbreaks of treatable diseases,” Ambassador Nestor Mendez, assistant secretary-general of the Organization of American States, said of Venezuela at the 70th session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Americas in September 2018.

Photo of young boy getting vaccinated with text about increase in malaria cases (© Fernando Llano/AP Images)“This humanitarian crisis has significant implications for the rest of the Americas,” he said.

Health authorities in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador have documented measles cases that share the same genotype as the kind found in Venezuela. Each country hosts a portion of the 3.4 million Venezuelans living abroad.

A large shipment of humanitarian aid for Venezuela was delivered to Cúcuta, Colombia, on March 7. The U.S. Agency for International Development shipment included medical supplies to help stop the spread of disease and to prevent and control infections.

In early April, in coordination with the governments of Curaçao and the Netherlands, USAID also pre-positioned four Interagency Emergency Health Kits in Curaçao. Each kit contains medicines and medical supplies sufficient to meet the emergency health needs of approximately 10,000 people for 90 days.

Since 2017, the United States has provided more than $213 million in humanitarian assistance to help Venezuelans and support the countries and communities that are hosting Venezuelans who have fled their country. The United States has now pre-positioned more than 500 metric tons of relief supplies, including food, medical supplies, hygiene kits, buckets and nutrition products at the Brazilian and Colombian borders with Venezuela. The State Department has also made vaccinations available to vulnerable children in Colombia, including Venezuelans who have fled there.

Attempts on February 23 to transport aid into the country were blocked by Maduro’s orders to the Venezuelan military to stop its entry, despite many who defected or refused to follow his orders.

A version of this story was previously published on May 2.


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