In crisis-hit Venezuela, pandemic claims many invisible victims

By Ron Gonzalez

Caracas, Oct 2 (efe-epa).- Teresa de Pedraza was watching television when she felt a sharp pain that she immediately identified as a heart attack symptom.

Frightened, the Venezuelan woman went to four different hospitals in Caracas and the nearby city of Guarenas, where she lives, but was denied entry at all of them because they were swamped with Covid-19 cases.

“They didn’t let us in,” the 58-year-old woman told Efe of her experience at the University Hospital of Caracas. “They’d closed the doors. They didn’t let us in because it was a sentinel (hospital) for people with Covid-19.”

De Pedraza was eventually treated at the main clinic in Petare, a Greater Caracas neighborhood 40 minutes from Guarenas that is Venezuela’s largest slum.

Although she had not contracted Covid-19, this Venezuelan housewife became an invisible victim of an illness that has caused health emergencies and wreaked economic havoc worldwide.

Had she died due to an untreated heart attack, which she was later confirmed to have suffered, her case would not have been recorded as a Covid-19 fatality.

Nevertheless, De Pedraza is convinced that the novel coronavirus – and the poor medical care she received – would have been partly responsible for her death.

But the problems she encountered when faced with that health emergency date back long before the pandemic.

Oil-rich Venezuela has suffered for many years from a deep and prolonged economic crisis marked by high inflation and a scarcity of basic products, even including fuel.

The opposition-controlled National Assembly (unicameral parliament) said in 2018 that the country is suffering from a “complex humanitarian emergency,” a situation that leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s detractors and non-governmental organizations say is not going away.

“The problem is that the Covid-19 emergency is unfolding within another emergency, which is the complex humanitarian emergency,” Alberto Nieves, executive director of Citizen Action against AIDS, an NGO, told Efe.

According to Nieves, between 26,000 and 28,000 people have had their HIV/AIDS treatments or doctor’s visits interrupted due to the impact of Covid-19 on Venezuela’s health system.

He said that one immunology center in Caracas that houses a pharmacy selling antiretroviral drugs and offers medical consultations to people with HIV/AIDS was closed for two weeks because a pair of staff members contracted the novel coronavirus.

“Two health workers were infected there and they immediately closed the entire center,” he said.

The same thing happened at another clinic in the coastal state of La Guaira – near Caracas – that also has a pharmacy and attends to HIV/AIDS patients, according to Nieves.

“It was closed for three months” after the director tested positive for Covid-19, the activist said.

“They can’t close a pharmacy and have no replacement personnel. They can’t close an HIV/AIDS clinic because the staff became infected (with Covid-19) and there’s no one else to attend” to patients, he added.

Cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other illnesses “have never been treated adequately” in Venezuela, labor leader Mauro Zambrano told Efe.

But that situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic, he said, adding that hospitals started neglecting to treat patients with other pathologies or health problems.

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