Venezuela is experiencing a crippling humanitarian crisis — so much so, in fact, that Venezuelans, who cannot afford plane tickets, have now resorted to walking to Brazilian border towns to combat medical care shortages.
Low- or middle-income families, who rely on health care with government-set prices, are affected the worst.
“Every Venezuelan is going through a precarious situation. Many are searching the trash to eat,” a resident told Human Rights Watch.
More than 12,000 Venezuelans have entered and stayed in Brazil since 2014. Many of them have no homes and live on streets in deplorable conditions; despite that, they say they are better off in Brazil than Venezuela.
The influx of so many refugees has created an extra burden on the already-struggling Brazilian public health system.
The General Hospital of Roraima, which treats 80 percent of the adults in the state, provided care to 1,815 Venezuelans in 2016.
That’s three times as much as in 2015.
In the border town of Pacaraima, about 80 percent of patients at the hospitals are from Venezuela. Venezuelan women also made more than 50 percent of prenatal care visits between January and August 2016.
“The supplies that I had planned for the entire year were used up in eight months,” said Marcilene Moura, director of Roraima General Hospital in Boa Vista, Brazil.
Brazilian health care providers also said Venezuelans patients who arrive are much sicker than their Brazilian counterparts because they did not receive sufficient medical care at home. Many have to be treated for complications because of untreated conditions, including HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, tuberculosis, syphilis and malaria.
“They arrive very malnourished with several illnesses, some of them as a result of malnutrition, respiratory and skin diseases, AIDS, tuberculosis and syphilis,” said an NGO missionary only identified as Clara, of the refugees that came to Brazil.
As a result they have to be hospitalized frequently and for longer periods of time than locals.
Doctors and health care experts said that even small hospitals, which do not see so many Venezuelan patients, are bearing the brunt of the influx as Brazil’s hospital capacity was already insufficient to meet demand.
Other Venezuelans said they moved to the country because they could not get medicine they needed at home.
Roraima authorities have provided additional funds to state hospitals in response of the heightened demand and in December the governor declared a health emergency for federal aid, but so far, aid has not arrived.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government is denying that a crisis exists and has not even made a concerted effort to obtain humanitarian aid.
Last month, President Nicolas Maduro said he asked the United Nations for help in obtaining medicine, without providing any additional details. However, he is still in denial about the worsening conditions of his country.
In the meantime, Venezuelans’ access to food and health care is seriously being compromised — and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.