Photo: Quartz

Last year, when diphtheria made its reappearance in Venezuelan ERs, we thought it couldn’t get any worse. We were already under heavy attack from the most challenging, ugliest of parasites (malaria), maternal mortality rates were the highest in Latin America, highly qualified health care personnel were fleeing the country by the hundreds and supplies, vaccines or functioning operating rooms were extinct.

That horror movie seemed like el llegadero, right? Think again. It’s not only that all of the above has stayed pretty much the same (or worse), we now have the icing on the cake: polio is back.

It’s not only that all of the above has stayed pretty much the same (or worse), we now have the icing on the cake: polio is back.

The outbreak was first reported all over national media last Thursday, when a statement by Venezuela’s Public Health Society and the Defendamos la Epidemiologia national network said a five-year-old Warao was diagnosed with Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) in Delta Amacuro. A sample was reportedly taken from the child in April, and sent to the National Institute of Hygiene where it was confirmed that, indeed, the child was infected with polio type 3. Two other children presented AFP, suspected to be caused by polio too (according to that source).

Despite the fact that polio is a Notifiable Disease, and any case must be notified to the World Health Organization (WHO), its Pan American branch (the Pan American Health Organization, PAHO) issued an Epidemiological Update last Friday, stating it first found out about the polio case from an “unofficial report” and it demanded information from the Venezuelan IHR National Focal Point (NFP).

According to the PAHO/WHO update, the confirmed case is a two-year-old. The report also claims there’s another suspicious case, an eight-year-old girl who resides in the same community as the confirmed case. PAHO states no more cases of AFP have been found through active search.

PAHO first found out about the polio case from an “unofficial report” and it demanded information from the Venezuelan IHR National Focal Point (NFP).

José Felix Oletta, former Health minister, says there are three other suspicious cases in Delta Amacuro, and PAHO is trying to determine the origins of the outbreak. He also claims it took the government a month to notify the case, despite WHO’s International Health Regulations demanding it must be made within 24 hours.

To further increase the misinformation, just a day before PAHO’s director, Carissa Etienne, is set to arrive at Venezuela for a meeting, the Health minister, Luis López, went on the record to deny any confirmed polio cases in the country, saying he “has no information” about it and, so far, “there’s no record of it. In here, it’s Venezuela who certifies it, not PAHO/WHO.”

In a candid interview, the minister went as far as saying NGO Codevida was a cartel, with a subtle threat to health syndicalist Pablo Zambrano, for being outspoken about health workers’ rights. All of that while denying the humanitarian crisis.

From now on, he says, Venezuela will purchase drugs for chronic diseases through PAHO and no longer depend on intermediaries, as a way to overcome the “economic blockade”.  The minister also threatened, again very subtly, with occupying the remains of the operative pharmaceutical industry left in the country.

Health minister, Luis López, went on the record to deny any confirmed polio cases in the country.

Lopéz also referred to the measles cases reported in Venezuela as “caused by an imported case from Europe”. Sure, and polio is back because we brought it from where, minister?

Those cases took place in 2017; as of today, Venezuela is responsible for 1,427 of the 1,685 reported cases in the Americas. PAHO says there’s currently an active transmission of the disease between 17 states, with most cases coming from Bolívar State.

It doesn’t take an expert to figure out why these outbreaks are happening: The government dropped the ball on the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI). We’ve been reporting about this since last year; with no official figures for 2017. In 2016, the coverage was as little as 82%. In 2018, the diseases speak on their own.

Frustration is what comes to mind when thinking about decades of lost work in immunization because of this government’s inefficiency. Venezuela, once an example in Public Health Policies, is a rampant danger for the whole region.

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31 COMMENTS

  1. What’s really amazing to me is that the numbers of sick by category are so low, albeit high by historic/Regional standards, given the appalling living conditions/deficiencies of “Er Pueblo”.

  2. It is horrible that polio is re-emerging in Venezuela and I hope that more of the dreaded diseases from the past don’t rear their ugly heads before the regime can be ousted .

  3. At what point are other countries justified in closing their borders or establishing camps for mandatory vaccinations and wait times?

  4. Pfft. Maduro will tell El Pueblo that this isolated case was brought about by inferior drugs purchased on the black market from the Imperialist plotters, whose ulterior motive is to infect every living Venezuelan with polio… which is why Maduro won’t allow humanitarian help… he is protecting His People from infection!

    And they will love him for it…

    hook

    line

    sinker

    • @Guapo…as sad as it is I am sure you are right. If I were running Colombia or Brazil I would be thinking long and hard about what waltz just said.

    • There are some who will certainly love Maduro for what he’s doing again: Folks like Bertucchi “the one with the medicine imports monopoly in his hands” for example.

    • “And they will love him for it…”

      It’s been said before in other scenarios at different times, and it appears sadly true now in Vz:
      “To change a degenerate culture, you have to kill a generation.” [or three]

  5. Astrid i have to ask: was the title of this article enspired by slim shady by any chance? It’s the first thing that popped into my head when I read it. I’m sure m&m got it from somewhere else too but I can’t place it just now…

  6. I have no idea how someone can manage to get out of this situation unscathed.

    Polio is one of the most vicious afflictions that a child can suffer with.

    This takes “heartless” to a whole new level.

  7. I had no idea that polio could just resurface like that. Like, I didn’t know there was a cause and effect which brings back the disease.

    Polio was basically 100% gone in the U.S. since the very early 50s, or so I’ve believed.

  8. Its not just polio, many other diseases which had dissapeared are coming back and not just diseases but problems we though we had left behind , the regime is turning back the clock, taking us back to when we were a more backward dysfunctional country , its massive regression to a more miserable and primitive kind of life which perhaps some of our great grandparents knew…….., soon we will not have high school or university graduates , moderns drugs and health facilities , stable food supplies, public transportation , passable roads, electricity, running water and of course none of the personal freedoms we took for granted….!! behind the loutish charades and clownish rants that fill local media messages we will be living one century behind our times !! never has a country paid such a high a price for its political mistakes !!

    • the regime is turning back the clock, taking us back to when we were a more backward dysfunctional country.

      Which reminded me of this CC article from last year, about a time when Venezuela could do more than just wait for the oil revenue to come in. The Man Who Beat Malaria.
      Similarly, Venezuela was one of the few countries where malaria increased from 2010 to 2015. On
      Incidence of malaria (per 1,000 population at risk)
      Country 2010 2015

      Venezuela 25.2 68.4
      Latin America 14.4 10.0

      https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.MLR.INCD.P3

    • Malaria rates soar in Venezuela – a nation that had nearly wiped it out.

      The catastrophic state of Venezuela’s malaria situation was underlined last month in comments by the head of the World Health Organization’s global malaria programme, Pedro Alonso, who reported that the incidence of this mosquito-borne disease in 2017, at 406,000, had jumped up 69% from the previous year’s figure and is in turn five times higher than the 2013 rate.

      “In the Americas, it’s not just Venezuela. We’re actually reporting increases in a number of other countries. Venezuela – yes this is a significant concern. Malaria is increasing … in a very worrying way,” said Alonso….
      “Venezuela is one of four countries in the world, along with South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria, where malaria is increasing sharply.

      “The question is – why is it happening in Venezuela, which was the first country to eradicate malaria?

      “The answer is that many of Venezuela’s health programmes have been weakened by the governments of the last two decades, in particular the prevention strategies for malaria, like DDT-spreading and health education.

      “When they built the Barrio Adentro they did not integrate the new health system … Now the combination of corruption, the lack of quality healthcare and the economic crisis has created a time bomb.”

      A second issue, according to Herrera, is the peculiarity of malaria-reporting in Venezuela, where many in the most affected areas suffer multiple reinfections. ..
      “If you are a person who had malaria five years ago and go again to a malarial region and get reinfected, that gets reported as the same case, with the risk you do not get treated.”

      A final issue is the way in which access to healthcare has become tied to the governing party via the carnet de la patria now being requested in addition to the traditional national ID

  9. Insofar as to why these diseases seem to be low, overall, (but high historically), who do you think is reporting/recording these cases?
    This is the same reason why Cuba is such a paragon of healthy people!

  10. At what point are other countries justified in closing their borders or establishing camps for mandatory vaccinations and wait times?
    ——-

    Sooner than later I’m thinking. Surrounding countries can’t just stand by while the bus driver does nothing and the entire region is hit by an epidemic. But given how slow and passive they are per everything else, the months of meetings and conferences and decrees issued sans action, this could spin out of control. Not sure I’ve seen a genuine epidemic in my lifetime. Hope I don’t this time either.

      • Scary stuff waltz! The flu outbreak of 1918 which was commonly referred to as Spanish flu (don’t know why) was the most virulent outbreak since the waves of bubonic plague that swept across Europe decimating the population on multiple occasions. This is probably how nature will resolve the overpopulation of the planet. Not a pleasant thought.

        • @Tom in Oklahoma The reason why it was called the Spanish flu was because of the intense Spanish reporting on it, particularly after their King fell ill and had to recover.

          Spain was neutral in WWI, so while the news was censored it wasn’t under wartime censorship like most other states. Who tended to suppress news of the Flu.

          A lot of people even thought it had started in Spain, which it didn’t (it seems to have been US born and bred).

          Just a bit of trivia.

          • @ Turtler..That is interesting! I know that it killed millions and millions of civilians and soldiers alike!

          • Turtler, my google search was not very successful for the most deadly based on population size, any idea on this? Global or population effected. Thanks for the trivia comment.

  11. Cuando el cachicamo le pregunta al morrocoy, la garrapata a la chivacoa, o al reves, blogs en ingles quitandole los trapos al emperador…

  12. the Health minister, Luis López, went on the record to deny any confirmed polio cases in the country, saying he “has no information” about it and, so far, “there’s no record of it. In here, it’s Venezuela who certifies it, not PAHO/WHO.”

    Of course the GOV has no information about it! Just like last year the GOV fired the then-current Health Minister for publishing data showing that Infant Mortality rose 30% in 2016. The GOV subsequently sent “data” to the World Bank indicating that Venezuela’s Infant Mortality declined in 2016.

    World Bank: Venezuela’s Mortality rate, infant (per 1,000 live births)
    2015 14.3
    2016 14

    There is no bad news in Chavistalandia, except that the Evil Empire is destroying Venezuela.

    https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.IMRT.IN?view=chart (2016 data downloaded from spreadsheet)

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