Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis is spilling across its borders, Human Rights Watch said today. Latin American governments need to apply strong pressure on the Maduro administration to address severe shortages of medicine and food in Venezuela that are causing Venezuelans to leave the country.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled a humanitarian crisis that their government denies exists and is not addressing adequately. Thousands have gone to Brazil, many entering via the border that Venezuela shares with the Brazilian state of Roraima. Some seek protection there as refugees, others seek temporary work, while others make visits seeking desperately needed medical care.
The unprecedented influx of Venezuelans is straining Roraima’s already overburdened public health care system and clogging Brazil’s system for processing asylum applications.
“Brazil is struggling to meet the urgent needs of Venezuelans who are victims of a humanitarian crisis for which the Maduro administration is largely to blame,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Brazil and other regional governments will ultimately have to press the Venezuelan government to stop denying the crisis and to take adequate steps to fix the problem.”
More than 12,000 Venezuelans have entered and stayed in Brazil since 2014, according to official sources. The number of Venezuelans moving to Brazil has increased more than five-fold from 2014, reaching 7,150 during the first 11 months of 2016. Many Venezuelans are living in precarious conditions on the streets and in a shelter in Boa Vista, Roraima’s capital. Despite the difficult conditions, all of the more than 60 Venezuelans Human Rights Watch interviewed in February said they were better off in Brazil than in Venezuela.
The demand for health care by Venezuelans is making it increasingly difficult for the state’s public health system to meet the needs of all its patients, both Brazilian and Venezuelan.
The General Hospital of Roraima, which serves 80 percent of adults in the state, provided care to 1,815 Venezuelans in 2016, up more than three-fold from 2015. In February 2017, the hospital’s director told Human Rights Watch that the facility was treating an average of 300 Venezuelan patients a month. The number of Venezuelan women seeking care at Roraima’s maternity hospital almost doubled in 2016, to 807. At the hospital in the border town of Pacaraima, about 80 percent of patients are Venezuelans, and Venezuelan women made more than half of prenatal care visits between January and August 2016.
Even in the hospitals where Venezuelans make up a small proportion of total patients, several health care professionals and officials said the increase in the patient load is aggravating existing strains on the state’s public health care system.
Brazilian health care providers said that Venezuelans tend to arrive at the hospital sicker than Brazilians, having failed to receive adequate treatment at home. Many are treated for complications because conditions such as HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and malaria have been left untreated due to shortages of medicines in Venezuela. As a result, doctors said, Venezuelan patients more frequently require hospitalization than local patients. Health care professionals said that even before the influx of Venezuelan patients, hospital capacity was insufficient to meet demand.
In one example Human Rights Watch found, Barbara Rosales, 21, went to the hospital in the Venezuelan city of Santa Elena de Uairén with complications in her six-month pregnancy in January. The hospital lacked the medicine she needed and ended up sending her to Brazil in a car accompanied by a nurse but without any medicines. Rosales was immediately hospitalized in Brazil. Five days later, her baby was born, weighing one kilogram. When Human Rights Watch visited the hospital a month later, the baby remained in intensive care.