Photo: HRW retrieved
The Venezuelan health crisis has been on news outlets’ radars for a long time. Venezuelan public health enthusiasts and health-related NGOs have done their best to collect epidemiological data while providing patients with much-needed care. Magnificent efforts, like the National Hospital Polls, seek to bring international attention to Venezuela’s worsening health, while also calling out the government for its inaction and failure to recognize the health network’s critical situation.
We’ve reported on the subject on a number of occasions because something so serious can never lose relevance. People are dying, and from our point of view (and according to the Venezuelan Constitution), the government’s negligence is to blame. To the dismay of everybody working on relief efforts, the regime continues to deny the crisis and therefore, is the biggest obstacle humanitarian aid faces in reaching the dying Venezuelan people.
That statement, however, is not often acknowledged by international organizations. That’s why the HRW report released last week strikes as a major victory for everyone working hard to collect and release accurate epidemiological data and bring attention to the subject.
The 75 pages are perhaps the most thorough report to be released on the humanitarian emergency yet. Written by Shannon Doocy, Kathleen Page, M.D. associate professor at the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Kathleen Page, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Tamara Taraciuk Broner, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch, it takes every important aspect into account: from chavismo’s denial of the crisis to the impact the Venezuelan diaspora has had on Colombia’s and Brazil’s health system (including data on women’s health and gender-based violence, infectious diseases, mortality rates and nutrition).
The recommendations for key players in the international and domestic scene are a true first for us.
The report recommends the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres to “publicly acknowledge that Venezuela is facing a complex humanitarian crisis and prioritize the adoption by UN bodies and UN agencies involved in humanitarian assistance of measures to address it,” and to “make clear to Venezuela’s leadership that it is responsible of ensuring that the UN can implement a humanitarian response commensurate with the gravity of the crisis.”
The UN should also seek to “eliminate obstacles in implementing a large-scale humanitarian operation, including legal permits for humanitarian staff to stay in the country and for organizations to import food, medicines, and medical supplies (…) advocate for OCHA, UNICEF, WFP, UNHCR, WHO, and other UN and NGOs to scale up their presence to facilitate coordination and implementation of a large-scale response; and ensure that in keeping with the principles of Human Rights Up Front, all UN staff inside and outside Venezuela ensure that the human rights of the Venezuelan people are given priority when it comes to deciding how to address the humanitarian crisis.”
Those sharp specific points addressed to the UN are music to our ears.
Those sharp specific points addressed to the UN are music to our ears. The report contains recommendations addressed to the UN’s security and human rights councils, World Health Organization executive director, Lima Group, USA, Colombia and Brazil governments and European countries, stating that the Venezuelan government should “release all available epidemiological data so OCHA can coordinate an independent, comprehensive assessment of the full scope of the crisis; and grant UN humanitarian agencies and NGOs full access to the country so they can implement a large-scale humanitarian response to address the crisis.”
The HRW truly did a beautiful job, as its authors saw through the government’s facade of blaming the crisis on U.S.-imposed sanctions (as many do these days, because the complexity of Venezuela’s political and economic crisis is not easy, or convenient, to grasp,) and states that the little humanitarian aid the government is quietly allowing in is short of sufficient.
Let’s not forget the biggest efforts made by the regime have been to shut down help coming from the borders and demonize its role. The fact that the Venezuelan crisis can’t be resolved by a few supply trucks or the sole efforts of a single international organization is often ignored.
Assessing the health crisis
While such strong, documented arguments about the political and economic crisis will hopefully help the Venezuelan cause, the report also focuses on public health issues: attention is brought to epidemics of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, diphtheria and other infectious diseases like tuberculosis, VIH, and malaria. “Venezuela is the only country in the world where large numbers of individuals living with HIV have been forced to discontinue their treatment as a result of the lack of availability of antiretroviral (ARV) medicines. A 2018 PAHO report estimated that nearly nine of ten Venezuelans living with HIV registered by the government (69,308 of 79,467 people, or 87%) were not receiving ARV treatment, though the actual number of people who need ARVs is unknown.”
The report is a pat on the back for every health and humanitarian worker currently fighting disease and hunger in Venezuela.
The decline of food security plays an important role in the emergency, despite earlier (misleading) reports of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and is addressed along with maternal and child mortality rates, and a whole section dedicated to the government’s responsibility, considering the absence of official epidemiological info, and Venezuela’s Center for Disease Classification ultimately losing its WHO certification.
The report is a pat on the back for every health and humanitarian worker currently fighting disease and hunger in Venezuela. It comes from Venezuelan sources and data, but it’s produced by international renowned experts in the field, free from any political bias.
Sometimes recognition is both a tool and a gift.