A recent article published in The Lancet makes a succinct summary of the effect of the crisis on public health, which has been difficult to quantify since the Venezuelan Ministry of Health stopped publishing public health statistics in 2016. The review was based on data from searches in MEDLINE, PubMed, and the grey literature, including references from relevant articles, governmental and non-governmental reports, and publicly available databases. Articles published in English and Spanish until 1 December 2018 were also included.

  • From 2012 to 2016, infant deaths increased by 63% and maternal mortality more than doubled.
  • Outbreaks of the vaccine-preventable diseases measles and diphtheria have spread throughout the region.
  • From 2016 to 2017, Venezuela had the largest rate of increase of malaria in the world, and
  • In 2015, tuberculosis rates were the highest in the country in 40 years.
  • Between 2017 and 2018, most patients who were infected with HIV interrupted therapy because of a lack of medications.

As the article states, “[t]he Venezuelan economic crisis has shattered the healthcare system and resulted in rising morbidity and mortality. Outbreaks and expanding epidemics of infectious diseases associated with declines in basic public health services are threatening the health of the country and the region”.

Regional emergency

The authors classify the health crisis as a regional emergency because it severely affects neighbouring countries. A similar article published in Lancet Infectious Diseases (February 19 2019) also describes the worrying healthcare implications of the crisis: Neighbouring countries, such as Brazil, have reported an escalating trend of imported malaria cases from Venezuela, from 1538 in 2014 to 3129 in 2017. […] The re-emergence of many vector-borne diseases represents a public health crisis in Venezuela and has the possibility of severely undermining regional disease elimination efforts. National, regional, and global authorities must take action to address these worsening epidemics and prevent their expansion beyond Venezuelan borders. Experts fear that International humanitarian assistance offered by the U.S. and international agencies cannot be trusted given allegation of corruption.

The ethical dilemma that needs to be studied

The current exceptional international health emergency produced by the illegitimate regime in Venezuela is seriously affecting the health and life of the country and the region and, in our opinion, needs to be analyzed urgently. We also need to examine what resources the international community has to intervene, and to what extent these are being implemented.