Original art by @modográfico

As a young medical school intern, one of my responsibilities was placing the requests for blood units at the blood bank. My patients’ scheduled surgery, dialysis or chemo recovery depended on the blood arriving on time. The sight of interns desperately running through the hospital with the patient’s charts trying to reach the blood bank as fast as possible is very common. You hear people shouting  “I need blood now!”

But ever since 2017, there’ve been numerous reports of generalized blood scarcity around Venezuela’s public blood banks. The issue is not the blood per se (family members of patients in need of blood are often in charge of getting donors), it’s the reagents needed to screen it for transfusion-transmissible diseases: Hep B, C, Chagas, HIV and syphilis.   

While the health crisis has been talked about for years, and we’re well aware of the shortages, blood scarcity lethally stabs Venezuela’s health system. Just when we thought it was bad, we hit a new low. A very, low, low.

In september 2017, public blood banks got word that the batch of reagents they got that month from the Health Ministry and the Institute of Social Security (these are the government organizations responsible for the purchase and distribution reagents nationwide) would be the last of that year, leaving to each hospital the job of finding and purchasing the reagents pending.

Back in February, the Venezuelan Nurses Society of Hemotherapy warned about how the lack of reagents affected up to 80% of the blood banks nationwide. The society’s advisor, Lia Talavera, claims some patients already died of digestive hemorrhage, as they couldn’t find blood.

The issue is not the blood per se it’s the reagents needed to screen it for transfusion-transmissible diseases.

She also claims some institutions are using expired blood bags, something she deems unacceptable, as the bags contain a number of chemicals that prevent blood from going bad. While people are making blood donations, those tend to decay, as blood can be saved up to 35 days and can’t be used without testing. In desperation, some banks are giving the patient’s family a sample of the blood their relative needs, so they can head to a private lab and pay for the testing. Sometimes they go many times through this, if the blood proves to be incompatible.

And when I thought I’d heard everything,  El Nacional did this piece, in which they interview Maribel Meléndez, secretary general of the Venezuelan Society of Hematologists.

She claims unscrupulous people try to benefit from the 70% paralyzation of blood banks. People in public hospitals, she says, go to patient’s beds and offer them the blood or derivatives they need, at quite the price.

Desperate patients pay up to Bs. 7,000,000 for the blood transfusions they need on the black market. A platelet bag in a private institution is around Bs. 1,000,000. That same bag goes for Bs. 800,000 at public hospitals, according to a source who wished to remain anonymous. When asked where the bags came from, the source claimed ignorance.   

Last week’s WaPo report on the blood shortages featured heartbreaking stuff: patients like César (suffering from thalassemia, a blood disease that causes hemolytic anemia) need blood transfusions on a regular basis. Many must resort to private blood banks for family members with cancer.

Desperate patients pay up to Bs. 7,000,000 for the blood transfusions they need on the black market.

Carla Tovar had to take her daughter (a leukemia patient) to a private clinic, where the child’s father works as a security ward, two hours away, by bus. The transfusion costed six minimum wages; they had to borrow from family and friends to pay it.

“If she needs another transfusion” Tovar said to WaPo in tears, “we have no money left.”

Later, Carla found her daughter did need a new transfusion. It took her five days of begging in public banks to get one.

Last week it was reported that 45 days of supplies and reagents were purchased through Venezuela’s Health Ministry and Institute of Social Security. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is also set to donate reagents enough for a month.

So that’s three months of supplies. What happens later? It’s naive to think the government will fix this for good. The health crisis will affect every single person living in this country and the deeper the hole gets, the harder it will be to get out.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.
Previous articleNicolás Jekyll, Nicolás Hyde
Next articleThe Dictator’s Costly Freedom
Head of the Church of Martha Stewart: I bake therefore I am. Táchirense: Almojabana and quesadilla lover, "toche" and "juemadre" user. Pastelitos de queso con bocadillo fanatic and overall gochadas supporter. Also doctor —as in proper MD— and pobresora universitaria too.

8 COMMENTS

  1. It’s part of the scorched land plan that the cubans have for their colony, Venezuela.

    They need to get rid of at least 12 million venezuelans to effectively control their drug mining camp, they have done it with at least 4,5 million already.

  2. Great reporting Astrid. But yet another sad story. Where is quico? No reporting from Gustavo or Emi in weeks. What is the editorial line of this blog? Time to fight or flight? Seriously quico.. you just quiting?

  3. This article depicts just how low the Tropical Paradise we once knew has descended….

    Despite his inflated ego, his dumb twits and multiple stupid ideas, the Donald was just right when he got caught calling Haiti and similar messes “shitholes”. (That’s what cracks me up about the Trumpster, he’s no career politician, sometimes the harsh truth comes out). Clearly, Kleptozuela is at that level by now, lowest of the low. Much worse than Cuba. Much worse than Bolivia, Nicaragua or Ecuador, of course (other ‘shitholes’ in many respects if you ask me). It’s at Sub-Saharan African levels. Only Haiti could compare in massive corruption, permanent humanitarian crisis, constant economic disaster, poverty, embarrassing lack of education, but even Haiti seems to be doing better!

    What used to be Venezuela can only be compared now to the worst of the worst in the Planet. It’s by far the worst in the entire American Continent. Only Syria, Somalia, Iraq or Zimbabwe and such disasters can compare with Kleptozuela in the “Shithole Nations World Index” (SNWI). By any standard.. from teen pregnancy to mass diseases, abysmal heath care, murders and crime, insecurity, inflation, immigration crisis, even Famine now. Gotta give it to the previous MUD’s that failed to educate Venezuela’s average people, which created Chavismo, which propelled an amazing, rich, progressive country into one of the very worst on the Solar System. They no longer belong in the Americas’ “3rd World”, they are now part of the 4th World, with very few of the worst African and Middle-Eastern ‘shitholes’. Se la comieron..

  4. I don’t know what bothers me more: the inherent sadness that there’s nothing you can do about this, or the fact that the author – a serious writer with a clear grasp on the issue – describes herself as the head of the Church of Martha Stewart.

    The first thing we fail at when we attempt to oppose the regime is branding ourselves.

    • Common, JJ! It’s tongue-in-cheek! It means she likes to cook, and enjoys being a woman! I admire her for that. Plus the fact that she handles a tough job and still manages to write for CC. Now, if she would just cut us Trumpistas a little slack….

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here