Photo: El Político, retrieved.
The student was looking at me, waiting for a question. He was sick and I knew it. I saw his reddish-yellowish, irritated eyes. Hepatitis A, I thought. The jaundice is present in the eyes and/or the body. He didn’t look well and before he could get up, he fainted. Once “recovered” he kept looking at me, waiting. I couldn’t ask him anything. What I saw in that face was sickness, exhaustion, absence. It froze me. I couldn’t go on.
“What’s going on?” was the next thing that came to my mind.
Much has been said about what we Venezuelans experience with health at the moment: there are no medicines and the few that can be found are too expensive, while diseases that were considered eradicated resurface and epidemic outbreaks occur, in part, due to the negligence prevalent in our country. There’s hepatitis A, classic and hemorrhagic dengue, tuberculosis, malaria, measles, rubella, and scabies. Even the slightest flu can be fatal; a small complication becoming your end.
The figures are alarming, but the stats and cold numbers are distant. What happens daily? At the school where I teach, there’s been absenteeism since we started classes last October due to the number of sick students, especially with dengue and hepatitis A. For each classroom of 20 to 35 students, between 10% and 30% were ill. In this school alone, out of a population of approximately 160 teenagers, at least 16 are ill.
He was sick and I knew it. I saw his reddish-yellowish, irritated eyes. Hepatitis A.
In the period from October to December, a fifth-year student basically lost the term. He never attended. I didn’t understand why until recently. I learned that the boy had been so sick that his brain swelled and, since his family couldn’t find the necessary medicines, they had to induce a coma to reduce the swelling. He survived and recently came back to school.
It’s important to take into account that the institution I’m talking about is a private, middle-class school with no major hygiene issues regarding cleanliness and maintenance of facilities. It’s a privileged school with cleaning staff and water. Yes, water, and I emphasize that because not all Venezuelan schools have guaranteed access to that service. There are schools that house a large number of students, teenagers and children, and lack both electricity and water.
If these diseases can be found in a school with “appropriate conditions” where the students’ parents have certain purchasing power, what’s the fate of kids in public institutions without basic services and who generally come from families whose income has been demolished by the crisis?
I learned that the boy had been so sick that his brain swelled and, since his family couldn’t find the necessary medicines, they had to induce a coma to reduce the swelling.
In a high school in downtown Caracas, where there’s been no water for over six months because the water pump is broken and the state hasn’t provided the resources to repair or replace it, there’s also a considerable amount of cases of classic and hemorrhagic dengue, hepatitis A and B. The girls in the institution have suffered from cystitis because they avoid going to the bathroom at school, since the restrooms (picture this) haven’t been cleaned in five months. The teachers in this school have denounced the decline to the Education Ministry, but the order is to continue with academic activities because “the right to education of your students can’t be affected.”
This is merely a sample from the capital. In the rest of the country, disease outbreaks are worse and more frequent, and there are fewer resources. But we know little because the worst part is opacity: we know that we’re bad, but we don’t know exactly how bad. The Venezuelan Health Ministry hasn’t issued an Epidemiological Bulletin since 2017, so since then, there are no official figures about diseases in the national territory, their mortality rate and the number of cases. We’re sick, but we don’t know how sick we are. We emigrate, but we don’t know how many have left. We die and that’s it, we die every day without knowing how many we were.
Recently, the cousin of an acquaintance in Trujillo State contracted hemorrhagic dengue. She was taken to the closest medical centers and they couldn’t help her. The girl died on the way to a farther hospital which had the necessary resources. I’d like to say that this case is extraordinary, that it’s not common, but that’d be a lie.
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