Our sick, sick Health Minister

Who bears responsablity for Venezuela's catastrophically failing health sector? "Capitalism!" says our disturbed new Health Minister

The lady above is our recently-named Minister of Health, UCV-graduated gynecologist Dr. Antonieta Caporale. Last week she caused a social media storm when she said that some diseases are induced by capitalism (play the clip from 1:50) while speaking to President Maduro on live TV:

Today, we know that what’s important is to achieve the preventative system and promote health so we can avoid a great number of diseases that are product of certain determinants and that are induced by mechanisms of bad…by an inadequate lifestyle and that are often times induced by capitalism.

Hoy en día sabemos que lo importante es hacer lo que es el sistema preventivo y hacer la promoción de salud para lograr evitar una gran cantidad de enfermedades que son producto de unos determinantes y son inducidos por mecanismos de mala…de un sistema de vida inadecuado y que muchas veces son inducidas por ese capitalismo.

This was no one-time slip-of-the-tongue burrada. Here’s the charming Doctor making the 7 minute version of the same argument — takes her 4:30 seconds to swing around to blaming Capitalism in this one. You might want to get an Air Sickness bag ready before you press play on this one:

Apparently, this PR stunt was enough to earn her the juicy cabinet post that five people have held before her since Maduro’s been in power. Where to start to set her straight?

As a multifactorial entity, disease can obviously be produced —or at least worsened— by lifestyle and environment: Diabetes, hypertension, obesity are only a few examples of conditions that are related to the Western way of life. But as a McDonald’s hamburger can block your arteries, so does the carbohydrate-flooded diet that the crisis has imposed to those Venezuelans who still can afford to buy food.

Nevertheless, Dr. Caporale seems to have forgotten some basic aspects of her pathophysiology lessons, so let’s refresh some basic concepts.

Diseases are complex processes in which a certain type and number of cells stop being able to develop the functions required by the organisms they form. As a consequence of this, several signs and symptoms eventually show up. Since the last decades of the 20th century health and disease have been seen as two extremes of an individual continuum, affected by conditions regarding the organism itself, the agents capable of damaging it,  the environment in which both coexist, and the way in which all of them interact with each other.

Few places in the world show the effect that adverse social conditions and life habits can have on health like the all socialist and bolivarian Venezuela

For a disease to occur, different metabolic pathways must malfunction, the mechanism through which these functions get damaged represents the pathogenesis of the disease, and the elements that put those mechanisms into motion are known as etiologic agents. Etiologic agents can be extremely varied: from a virus or bacteria to a mutation in a gene, the kinetic energy released by a bullet, or even a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Last time I checked however, capitalism wasn’t included in the list.

Actually, few places in the world show the effect that adverse social conditions and life habits can have on health like the all socialist and Bolivarian Venezuela:

The CIA didn’t force Kevin Lugo to forage the poisonous yuca that ended up killing him, lack of food and record inflation did. Warren Buffet didn’t make Ana María Perdomo hang herself after being diagnosed with a lymphoma; realizing the required chemotherapy had to be brought from Colombia at unpayable prices did.

These are only two of the examples that made it to the newspapers. Most don’t. They’re just forgotten, only another number for a health report that will never be published: Elders whose aneurysms bleed after months without finding their prescribed antihypertensives, underfed babies requiring long disappeared antibiotics, pregnant women forced to skip their prenatal controls to wait hours in a queue for their CLAP bags… They are all faceless victims of this epidemic.

People are dying in Venezuela, at greater numbers every day.  Not because they are not diagnosed in time, not because doctors don’t want or don’t know how to help them and definitely not thanks to Uncle Sam; but simply because the entire health system has collapsed, leaving hospitals without medication, or even doctors to administer them.

This is not the work of David Rockefeller, but the consequence of two decades of economic absurdity and ideological mumbo jumbo.

People are dying in Venezuela, at greater numbers every day simply because the entire health system has collapsed.

When patients’ relatives must walk dozens of pharmacies, pay hundreds of thousands bolívares for imported drugs, long extinct from public hospitals, or in the worst cases, see their loved ones die; they point the fingers at Miraflores and the Cuartel de la Montaña, not Wall St.

Dr. Caporale however, got one thing right: prevention really is the best way to treat a disease. Too bad the government decided to substitute our 50 years old primary attention network for the white elephant known as Barrio Adentro. Last year’s diphtheria outbreak could have been effectively prevented had we had enough vaccines to respond to the first few cases, for example.

Health is a constitutional right, and it’s the State’s obligation to guarantee it (here, let me Google that for you. It’s article 83). I’m sure Dr. Caporale, like every physician, knows that the only way to effectively cure disease is to treat its cause, and the cause of our disease is definitely not capitalism.

So how about we get a serious therapeutic plan in place once and for all?

Juan Carlos Gabaldón

Medical doctor from Merida, currently studying Medical Parasitology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine