Venezuelan official blames US sanctions for health system woes
Geneva, May 22 (efe-epa).- Venezuela's health minister said here Wednesday that economic sanctions imposed by Washington are to blame for shortages of medicines and other health-care necessities in the oil-rich Andean nation.
"The principal health problem is the trade blockade on the part of the United States of which we are victims," Carlos Alvarado told a press conference in Geneva on the occasion of the annual assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The number of pharmaceutical firms with a presence in Venezuela has halved - from 50 to 25 - as a consequence of US sanctions against the leftist government, he said.
Alvarado added that at least 12 percent of the 5 billion euros ($5.57 billion) in Venezuelan government funds sitting frozen in US and European banks was earmarked to purchase vaccines from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
"Venezuela has not sat with its arms folded and has increased health cooperation with countries such as Cuba, Russia, China, Palestine, Iran and Turkey," as well as with the PAHO and the WHO, the minister said.
He said that he has met in Geneva with officials of the WHO and of the International Committee of the Red Cross to discuss ways to address shortages of medical goods in Venezuela.
While the talks with the Red Cross were about increasing deliveries of antibiotics and hospital anesthetics, his meeting with PAHO Director-General Carissa Etienne focused on "the possible purchase of raw materials to produce medications in Venezuela," Alvarado said.
The minister acknowledged increases in the incidence of measles and diphtheria in Venezuela, though he said that no new outbreaks of those illnesses had been reported in the last month.
He denied the existence of cholera in his country and said that the only outbreak of malaria was limited to the state of Bolivar, which borders Brazil and Guyana.
No hospital patients died as a result of recent protracted nationwide power blackouts in Venezuela, Alvarado said.
Lack of access to medicines affects all Venezuelans, but the impact is greatest on the poor, "who represent approximately 50 percent of the population," he said.
The minister said that while the government has made no official estimate of how many Venezuelans have died due to shortages Caracas attributes to US sanctions, a study published recently by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research put the number at more than 40,000.
"All of the country's hospitals are functioning, though not at 100 percent of their capacity," Alvarado said.
The WHO, Cuba and China are the main suppliers of medicines to Venezuela at the moment, he said. EFE