The challenges and our response
Venezuela is undergoing a major humanitarian crisis, with roughly 5 million of its citizens having left the country in search of work, food, healthcare and other basic needs. Those left behind are facing an increasingly dire political and economic situation, with more than 7 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. The government of embattled President Nicolás Maduro is in a standoff with an opposition party led by National Assembly Speaker Juan Guaidó, while inflation rates exceeding 1 million per cent—combined with high rates of poverty—have left Venezuelans struggling to access and purchase basic supplies.
The country’s severe economic crisis has crippled the healthcare system, with many facilities lacking the basic supplies needed to prevent and treat new illnesses such as COVID-19 and resurging communicable diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles and malaria. Approximately two-thirds of the biggest hospitals in Venezuela do not have running water but instead are forced to rely on water distributions from international organizations a few times a week. The economic crisis also has led to severe shortages of personal protective equipment, intensive-care beds, medicines and personnel, as many thousands of doctors and nurses have migrated abroad in recent years. Pervasive hunger, malnutrition and lack of access to basic services are also causing infant and maternal mortality rates to skyrocket, with conditions sure to deteriorate further.
International Medical Corps deployed a team to Venezuela in March 2019 to assess humanitarian needs, as well as the operational environment for providing healthcare support. In September 2019, International Medical Corps earned registration as a Civil Association non-profit organization in Venezuela and was authorized to provide humanitarian services. Today, as concerns around COVID-19 continue to grow, International Medical Corps is working to provide pandemic-control support in areas where assistance is most needed.
To address significant healthcare gaps during the COVID-19 pandemic, International Medical Corps is deploying emergency medical field units to support health facilities in Venezuela’s border states—Zulia, Apure and Táchira—and Miranda. The units will support triage and patient screening activities, and in some cases will be used to provide surge capacity for health facilities, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase along these transit corridors. To ensure that patients receive the lifesaving care they need and that healthcare workers are able to perform their duties safely, International Medical Corps has procured and distributed medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to support these hospitals.
In addition to addressing the needs of people along the routes to the border, International Medical Corps is helping indigenous populations in the state of Bolivar. Through local partners, International Medical Corps is sending out mobile medical teams to increase access to health services and hygiene support for approximately 2,200 women, men and children—care that is particularly critical as COVID-19 caseloads are rising.
COVID-19 Treatment and Prevention
COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Venezuela, which is ranked by the 2019 Global Health Security Index among the countries least prepared to respond to a pandemic. The government has attributed the increased infection rate to the return of Venezuelan migrants from neighbouring countries—but with limited testing and reporting taking place, there is likely an underestimation of cases, and there remains a high risk that the country’s health system could be overwhelmed by even a moderate increase in COVID-19 cases.
As concerns around COVID-19 continue to grow, International Medical Corps is participating in coordination meetings with United Nations agencies, international NGOs, key health officials and mayors of municipalities to understand needs and areas where assistance is required.
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services (MHPSS)
International Medical Corps is working with a local partner to strengthen and increase access to mental healthcare services throughout Gran Caracas, Miranda, Capital District and La Guaira. Through this partner, International Medical Corps will access community-based mental healthcare centres, leveraging their robust network of social workers to increase the availability and quality of mental health services at both the clinical and community level.
Utilising techniques gained from our experience responding to COVID-19 in the United States and in our missions abroad, International Medical Corps is implementing a series of COVID-19 training sessions in Venezuela that provide healthcare professionals with instruction on COVID-19 epidemiology, infectious disease prevention and control procedures, and the proper use and management of PPE.