How a Venezuelan Living with HIV Could Change the Way Mexico Deals with Refugees

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How a Venezuelan Living with HIV Could Change the Way Mexico Deals with Refugees

Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, LGBTQ, Migration & Refugees, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations | Opinion Josefina Salomon is Media Manager at Amnesty International MEXICO CITY, Dec 21 2017 (IPS) – As Daniel*, a 26-year-old architect, stood before a visibly exhausted doctor in the main public hospital of the once-idyllic beach resort town of Isla Margarita, northern Venezuela, a terrifying premonition took hold of him. “We are not doing tests until further notice. The machine is not working and we don’t have any reagents,” the man in the white coat told him. It was early June 2015. Venezuela was on the verge of a humanitarian crisis that was forcing people to queue for basic food and medical supplies. A couple of days before, Daniel had been diagnosed with HIV during a routine health check. The tests being discussed were essential to establish the type of treatment he needed. But the main hospital in one of the richest states in Venezuela did not have the necessary supplies to carry them out. In much of the world, advances in treatment has meant HIV is now a chronic, manageable condition similar to diabetes, but in Venezuela it can now mean serious illness and risk of death. Daniel’s premonition was brutally simple: no test. No treatment. No future.   The lack of everything “Eventually doctors told me I was going to have to wait at least three months to have the tests done and start the treatment. I could not wait that long,” Daniel recalls. In response to this crushing setback, he chose an option that most Venezuelans could not afford. He got hold of all the money he could, and went to a private health center. But in Venezuela, where people can barely keep up with the ever-growing exchange rate and you need a couple of stacks of bills to buy a pizza, this was trickier than he thought. At the time, Daniel made 180,000 bolivares (the Venezuelan currency) a month, way higher than the minimum salary which was then at nearly 10,000 bolivares. The test cost 120,000. Daniel needed one test every four months to ensure he was receiving the right treatment. After the tests, his doctors prescribed an anti-retroviral – vital to keeping his immune system strong and preventing opportunistic illnesses from wreaking havoc on the body – and multivitamins to keep his immune system healthy. With a diagnosis and a prescription, Daniel went on a quest across the country. He eventually got hold of 30 pills, enough to last a month, but finding over-the-counter multivitamins was nearly impossible. By 2015, understocked pharmacies were used to seeing clients with prescriptions for one medicine and a long list of alternative medicines. According to a report by a coalition of social and health organizations in Venezuela, in 2015 most public hospitals had an 80% shortage of medicines and a 70% shortage of medical supplies. Meanwhile, 60% of equipment simply did not work, and more than 50% of health professionals had fled the country. The situation has deteriorated even further since then. By March 2016, there was an 85% shortage of basic medicines and medical supplies across the country. Humanitarian crisis In Venezuela, 90% of medicines and medical supplies are imported. These are paid for with foreign currency, which is administered and tightly controlled by the state. In 2010, when the Venezuelan economy began spiraling out of control, the late President Hugo Chavez restricted the amount of foreign currency it allocated to the health and food sectors. Between 2014 and 2015, his successor Nicolas Maduro cut it by 65%. With none of these drugs being produced domestically, over time seven out of every 10 medicines simply disappeared. The crisis was exacerbated when, due to Venezuela’s growing debts since 2010, most international drug suppliers stopped selling to the country. The government stopped publishing any kind of health statistics, including causes of death, at least three years ago. The number of deaths caused by the collapse of the country’s health system is therefore impossible to know, but experts fear the number might be in the thousands. When it comes to HIV, the picture is even more dire. Feliciano Reyna, founder of Acción Solidaria, a local organization responding to HIV & AIDS in the country, says the health system is in a critical state. “We are going through a humanitarian crisis. In 2014, the government accepted medicines from the Panamerican Health Organization but they were not enough and there are no signs that there will be medicines available next year. We estimate that approximately 77,000 people will not have medicines after February. We have gone back decades,” he said from his office in Caracas. Feliciano’s organization receives donations of medicines from private individuals which he gives to the hundreds of desperate people that knock on his door every day. “The damage this situation causes is incalculable. The
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On December 25, 2017
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