#1 Tweeting for Treatment in Venezuela by algernonpj 13.02.2015 10:08


Zero must be so proud of the legacy of his bud Hugo Chavez.

Tweeting for Treatment in Venezuela
February 13, 2015
By Sergio Held

It’s a tweet that ultimately fell on deaf ears: “#ServicioPublico Infalgan solution of 10 Mg for injection is needed for Vanessa Chacón.” S ent from San Rafael del Piñal, a small town in Venezuela near the border with Colombia, the tweet was sent on behalf of Chacón, 22, who needed the medicine to survive a severe coronary condition. Unfortunately, it’s simply not available there — and isn’t likely to be anytime soon.

“My niece is very sick. We haven’t been able to locate the drug in pharmacies or in hospitals,” says Nelson Jaimes, who’s Chacón’s uncle and, coincidentally, a pharmacist. “We who are inside the pharma business can’t locate the products. What can a regular citizen expect to find?”

In Venezuela, several hundred tweets like this go out every day under the hashtag “#ServicioPublico,” meaning “public service.” But few cries for help are answered, and the country is facing a critical shortage of basic medical supplies. The crisis is only getting worse. A crumbling economy and lack of access to foreign currency (worsened by the recent drop in oil prices) means domestic distributors cannot pay their suppliers. That, in turn, has led international medical suppliers to cut shipments and hold back on maintenance of Venezuela’s health care infrastructure. B ills have piled up to the tune of some $245 million — and that doesn’t include money owed to drug companies, maintenance firms or other health careproviders.

The consequences are being felt across a broad swath of society. Up to 15 percent of the country’s cancer patients are dying due to a lack of radiotherapy treatment, the Venezuelan Society of Oncology and Oncological Radiotherapy has warned. The situation has become so dire that some professionals who used to work with pharma companies say they’ve cut their relationships because there’s just no medicine for the businesses to supply.

Look no further than the shelves in Jaimes’ two pharmacies, which are almost empty. There’s no vitamin C, no folic acid, not even acetaminophen, which is sought after to treat the symptoms of chikungunya, a mosquito-transmitted virus that causes severe joint pain and infected almost 35,000 people last year. And while Jaimes searches for the drug his niece needs, he — and many other business owners — are also struggling to keep their pharmacies afloat. “You must keep the pharmacy open eight hours a day, every day, whether you have anything to sell or not,” he says. “If we close, we lose our licenses.”

The country’s government, which did not respond to a request for comment, has said that many Venezuelan-subsidized products, such as medicines, are being smuggled to Colombia and that it is trying to get a handle on the situation. Yet it has alsotaken steps to protect its image. One government directive that Venezuelan health care guilds have criticized warns, “It is strictly prohibited for patients or their families to bring medicines or medical supplies for their treatment, even if hospitals don’t have the necessary supplies.”


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