Hippocratic Oath No More: Ideology Wins the Health Crisis Battle

While lack of basic medical supplies kills Venezuelan patients, the board of directors of a State-run hospital in Caracas refuses to accept a donation from Médecins sans Frontieres, putting politics and ideology before patients’ lives.

Photo: retrieved

Very cordially, I write this letter in relation to your Communication, received under the number 918, on October 24, 2018, through which you remitted to us an annex with a supplies and medicine donation certificate from Doctors Without Borders. To that regard, I notify you that because of a decision of this Directive Board, donations from such organization won’t be received.

Without any other particulars to reference, subscribes to you,

Dr. Pablo Castillo

Subdirector (E)

Caracas University Hospital

In those five lines addressed to Dr. Gustavo Benítez, Chief of Surgery at the Caracas’ University Hospital (HUC, for is Spanish acronym); Dr. Pablo Castillo, the hospital’s subdirector informed him of the decision to reject a donation offered last week, by Switzerland-based NGO Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). The letter quickly became viral in social media.

Benítez had requested a donation last October, and according to him, he had previously informed the board about its nature and handed a detailed inventory of the requested supplies, so the board members could keep a record and make sure they weren’t being sold or taken away by the hospital’s personnel. He was expecting this to be the first of a series of similar donations, and assured in an interview that the rejection letter’s diffusion surprised him, but revealed the Health Ministry’s unwillingness to “help himself”.

The leaked letter was received with public outrage and indignation.

In a country where simple things like syringes and gauze are nowhere to be seen, where people constantly die due to lack of antibiotics and chemotherapy, the leaked letter was received with public outrage and indignation, especially because many of the supplies shipped to the hospital—such as venous catheters and sterile surgical robes—were precisely the ones that the hospital itself asks patients to provide in order to get them to surgery. Representatives from the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), whose medical students work at the HUC as interns, condemned the decision and asked for an explanation from the board, claiming that they were never consulted and that the “hospital was falling to pieces”.

So earlier this week, the hospital responded… And they would’ve better kept their mouths shut.

In a new statement, signed by the directive board, the authorities assured that the country has been a “victim of economic sanctions” that compromised the acquisition of required medical supplies, while paradoxically claiming Venezuela has the resources to buy all required materials and that “it’s not susceptible to miseries designed to bend its dignity”.

They also said the donated material lacked the requested legal licenses from the Venezuelan Health Ministry. After reassuring that they would not accept the supplies, the board said they would keep condemning the consequences of the “immoral economic war that tries to bend the Venezuelan people’s dignity forcing it to accept harmful maneuvers from national and international organizations,” and recommended all organizations interested in improving the situation of Venezuela, to ask for the immediate removal of economic sanctions.

The statement was criticized even by the hospital’s union leaders, who asked the board to reconsider their position in behalf of patients.

Dr. Thais Rebolledo, chief of Radiotherapy and one of the statement’s signatories was interviewed by Cesar Miguel Rondón last Tuesday and after angrily acknowledging that she ignored if economic sanctions prevented the acquisition of supplies—even though the letter she signed, and her own words seconds before said otherwise—she assured that the supplies were rejected because their quality hadn’t been validated by the Venezuelan Health Ministry.


Médecins sans Frontières is a Nobel-awarded organization, that has provided voluntary healthcare in low-income environments in over 70 countries for 47 years. All the products they distribute go through a thorough quality control process, which is publicly detailed on their own website. And yes, the lack of a license from the Venezuelan Health Ministry could still be a valid argument… if that same ministry hadn’t blatantly ignored the fact that products of scientifically-proven low quality are being widely distributed across the nation in CLAP boxes, without anything similar to a sanitary permission.

But the lack of empathy and the ideological stubbornness of the HUC’s board statement are still shocking.


The refusal from authorities receiving the donations isn’t new. Nicolás Maduro has repeatedly refused offers of humanitarian aid, claiming they are decoys designed by Western powers to secretly invade the nation. But the lack of empathy and the ideological stubbornness of the HUC’s board statement are still shocking.

In a classic display of chavista cynicism, Dr. Rebolledo shielded herself behind the Primum non nocere (First, do no harm) oath that all medical doctors around the world take when they graduate. The same oath that her, and the other signatories break every single day, when they put ideology before Venezuelan patients, as firmly denounced by César Miguel Rondón in his interview (which you can listen here).

If anything “positive” can be taken from this, is that the statement makes very clear that when choosing between Venezuelan lives and political allegiances, health authorities will always put the Revolution first.

So, the next time you read news about a kid dying from an infection at a Venezuelan hospital, or you stumble upon someone urgently looking for chemotherapy on social networks, or get a glimpse of the humiliation Venezuelan patients must endure to get the few medicines the State has to offer, remember that’s not casual: It’s the Venezuelan government’s will.

And don’t forget the doctors who still help them enforce it.

Juan Carlos Gabaldón

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