- Venezuela has some of the worst healthcare in the world, and the coronavirus has only made the situation worse.
- At one public hospital in Caracas, there’s no running water, and a shortage of medicine means cancer patients at times have to provide their own if they want treatment.
- We went inside a Venezuela hospital with crumbling infrastructure to see how a 9-year-old cancer patient is coping in such a tough environment.
- View more episodes of Business Insider Weekly on Facebook.
COVID-19 made a dire situation worse for 9-year old Camila. She has been battling cancer for over a year in Caracas, Venezuela.
Camila’s family knows this firsthand. The child found out she had cancer when police officers stopped her parents’ car as they were driving her to the hospital for another round of tests.
The officer was giving them a hard time, and her father lost his patience. “Gilberto was pissed, and it got to a point that he said, ‘Come on man, she has cancer!'” Yurima, Camila’s mother, told Business Insider Weekly.
At the public hospital, doctors have been forced to cancel surgeries because there is only one operating room in service. The other four are in disrepair.
Dr. Gabriel Romero, an oncologist at the hospital, told us in a phone interview that at times he hasn’t been able to accept new patients because he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to treat them.
He said that there is no morphine to treat patients in palliative care. And there is no formaldehyde to perform biopsies.
Even something as vital as running water is only occasionally available at the hospital. Seventy percent of the country’s hospitals only have water one or two days a week. And only 9% have regular access to running water, according to a survey that was conducted by local doctors alongside the World Health Organization.
The shortage of water makes it impossible to clean the restrooms. “When you see the restrooms the patients use, you’ll say, ‘I don’t understand how someone who is sick has to go inside a bathroom like this one,’ said Lisbeth Añez, the founder of Mama Lis Foundation, a nonprofit.
Many families depend on organizations like Añez’s to find the medicine they’ll need for their treatment. Shortages have forced doctors at the public hospital to tell patients that if they want to be treated, they have to bring in everything they’ll need themselves.
But that’s not easy in a country where the minimum wage is around $2. “We have patients that come from very low socioeconomic backgrounds, that at most they’ll have enough to eat,” said Dr. Manuel Camacho, a pediatric oncologist who is treating Camila.
At times, patients travel hundreds of miles to cross into neighboring Colombia where medicine is cheaper and in stock.
The Venezuelan government hasn’t consistently published official data in years, but organizations like the Anticancer Society of Venezuela estimate the number of cancer deaths has increased yearly since 2014.
Maduro’s regime has said in the past that the healthcare issues are being exaggerated by the opposition. And he argued that US sanctions are to blame for the country’s economic collapse.
Those who can have been fleeing the country. More than 20,000 doctors have left since 2014, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
At the Institute of Oncology, nurses make about $8 a month. Meanwhile, Camacho says doctors don’t charge more than “a kilo of cheese.” But he has no plans of leaving Venezuela.
For patients like Camila, Camacho is their only hope. “That’s why I’m still here, for these babies that need it,” he said.
Camila has now gone through months of chemotherapy after doctors removed the tumor on her left leg. And she knows exactly what she wants next: “What I need is a massage and a spa,” she said.
But there’s one thing she wants even more than a spa day. “Health,” she said.