Zika in Venezuela

In few countries is the current political, economic and social situation worse than in Venezuela. This is especially dispiriting given that the country faces an outbreak of the Zika virus at the same time that medicines and basic supplies are in short supply. The Institute for Tropical Medicine has been broken into 11 times in 2 months. The offices were cleaned out so completely that the institute was left without any microscopes or key equipment. The situation in Venezuela’s hospitals is catastrophic. The situation has grown so bad that international organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, are now trying to draw the world’s attention to the breakdown in the nation’s public health system. Given that the nation is failing to adequately prevent and treat other mosquito-born illnesses -such as dengue- Venezuela may be on the edge of repeating the disaster that has passed over Brazil. What is frustrating is that this disaster would be needless, because basic public health measures -eliminating mosquito breeding grounds, spraying, screens on windows, mosquito nets, and insect repellent- could do much to limit the damage. Venezuela also faces severe shortages in such common items, including those necessary for family planning, such as condoms. Couples will need these to delay pregnancies until after the epidemic has peaked. Health officials know what to do. Given the countless billions that the country has given away over the last decade, or which cannot be accounted for, it would be a tragedy if there was not a massive effort to stop Zika on the grounds that the country lacked funds. Still, there are grave doubts about even the validity of the health data that the Venezuelan government is sharing. One health group is providing information that suggests that 150 times more people have been infected by Zika in Venezuela than the government has stated.

Shawn Smallman, 2016


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