Photo: Dario Sosa

People in Venezuela live in poverty and our health care system is in dire conditions, yes, but little is said about the fate of those risking their lives to save others. Unbelievable as it seems, highly educated doctors and medical residents are also part of the population sleeping on empty bellies.

At Hospital Universitario de Los Andes, Mérida’s biggest hospital, Dr. Estrella Uzcátegui, the hospital’s chair, tells me her residents have lost 16 pounds on average.

“People ask me all the time, what is it that I’m still doing here” Angely, a pneumonology second year resident, says. “It’s frustrating, I already have a specialty and I’m still struggling, all the money goes to food.”

She had to sell her personal belongings to pay for academic related paperwork. Angely refuses to be anything but a doctor, so fleeing to work at something else is not an option.

Andrea, another medical resident I interviewed, has been studying and practicing medicine for eleven years, but her wage is not enough for her to eat: “I can’t provide for my son, I missed his first steps and his first words because I was training as a physician. Now I can’t even offer him a future.”

“It’s frustrating, I already have a specialty and I’m still struggling, all the money goes to food.”

Andrea refuses to give up, saying she’ll keep on fighting to get her medical specialty and give her son the country he deserves.

These are the people who are supposed to make life or death decisions on a daily basis, and some of them eat only twice a day.

“Anybody can put a gun to your head,” Félix, already a surgeon and urology second year resident, tells me. Last year he was mugged twice, and the second time they stole his laptop, making it very difficult to keep up with his academic work. He shows me his shoes and tells me he’s been wearing them to work ever since he was a surgery resident, four years ago. “I can’t afford new ones.”

The most heartbreaking testimony came from David, a trauma first year resident who confessed he had to sell pretty much everything he had to cope with the crisis.

“It took me nine years to graduate from med school because I had to work while studying. I see my seven year old son and I try not to worry him with all of this; he had to switch schools because I couldn’t afford the one he was in.”

Visibly affected, she told me 30 residents have resigned from their posts already, because they can’t afford their studies anymore.

Among the things Dr. Uzcátegui shared, there was the realization she had at the Marcha de Batas Blancas protest, last April: her residents have no proper shoes.

“I was marching beside them and I looked down for a moment. Their shoes were in such bad shape.”

Visibly affected, she told me 30 residents have resigned from their posts already, because they can’t afford their studies anymore.

Going to work sometimes means putting your life at risk (last March, a resident got stabbed while getting to his hospital in Barcelona), but despite the terrible conditions, the lousy wages and the many obstacles this country imposes, we are not giving up. Many protests are taking place now: doctors have been marching with their white lab coats, demanding better salaries and supplies for their patients.

Attendings, medical residents, nurses and people working at hospitals are the only resource left to fight the health crisis. While the government turns a blind eye, many organizations are trying their best to aid patients and doctors. Primeros Auxilios ULA (Yellow Cross) is now running a crowdfunding campaign to help struggling residents from Los Andes. The goal is to provide them with lunch, everyday, for as long as possible.

That’s where you come in: Donate anything you can to make this possible. Nobody should have to make life or death decisions while hungry and scared for the future.

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