August 22, 2019
Latest News

Patients with mental illness face labyrinth in Venezuela

By Ron Gonzalez

Caracas, Aug 7 (efe-epa).- In a dark room in Venezuela's most important psychological hospital, two elderly women lie on folding cots on worn mattresses amid tangled sheets that seem to be part of their bodies.

Their names are not posted at the head of the cots because it could have been other patients who occupied the beds the previous night at the Psychiatric Hospital in Caracas, an institution founded 126 years ago but which is going through very hard times.

The elderly ladies are just two of the thousands of mental patients in Venezuela who are forced to go through a double labyrinth, dealing both with their own afflictions and also the lack of public medical assistance that might help them get better.

"This has become a human overcrowding zone," nurse Johana Hernandez told EFE after pointing out that only a small part of the hospital designed to attend to about 300 patients, something that she calls "a cultural right," is operating amid the worst possible conditions.

"The more that you want to do things well, you can't," she said, pointing out the deplorable working conditions at the health center.

As Hernandez spoke with EFE, cockroaches and other insects crept along the walls, climbed into the patients' beds and were visible in the areas where the nurses take their breaks, where every day after 6 pm five postgraduate medical students go home and leave the hospital without any doctors on call.

She said that the health center does have on hand a certain amount of medications to treat depression, schizophrenia and other ills affecting the 36 patients.

"We're getting (the medications), but not in the amounts needed to be able to attend to everyone," she said.

She showed EFE about 20 ampules of sedatives with expiration dates in 2016, but added that they are used only in emergencies.

Due to the lack of maintenance personnel, trash, excrement and dead insects are to be found in the rooms, bathrooms and patios of the huge hospital, which has been without electric power in most of its rooms for 20 months.

"The hospital personnel are not on strike," she said, but rather are working at the bare minimum level, although - despite all the difficulties - they are still manning their posts in the psychiatric department.

The debacle at the hospital is part of the ongoing discussion in Venezuela, a country that is going through the worst political and economic crisis in its modern history and where millions of workers can't earn enough to cover their daily food expenses.

"To be honest, I don't know what anyone earns here," said Hernandez, who added that her pay, which is just a little over $6 per month, is only "symbolic" since she can't live on it anyway.

"If I made that public, OK, I'd have to pay the consequences. I don't know what those would be ... (But) I can't turn a blind eye and be one of the ones who kept quiet. No, as long as I'm here I'm not going to do that," she said.

In Venezuela, hospital services are going through their own crisis period, amid the scarcity of medications and the low pay for doctors and nurses, who work for the state headed since 2013 by Nicolas Maduro.

Every day, there are dozens of protests demanding an end to the crisis and an improvement in public services, which are by far the least costly in the region.

Amid this crisis, the opposition and health workers unions have been calling for the opening of a humanitarian channel into the country whereby pharmaceutical products and other basic necessities could enter.

In recent months, shipments of medications and other medical materials have come into the country from the Red Cross and allied countries like Russia and China.

But Hernandez said that, at least in the case of this hospital, nothing has been received.

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