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Fear of Coronavirus in Venezuela: ‘What Do I Do With Masks, If I Don’t Have Water or Electricity?’

Fear of Coronavirus in Venezuela: ‘What Do I Do With Masks, If I Don’t Have Water or Electricity?’

By Gustavo Ocando Alex / Voice of America / Edited by Diálogo Staff
March 13, 2020

Without water, health preservation is an impossible task, Venezuelan doctors and nurses say to illustrate their fear and concerns about the risk of a coronavirus outbreak in the country.

They say that hospitals lack medication, surgical equipment, and primary care supplies, such as masks, I.V. drips, and thermometers, or a moderately operational infrastructure. They also lack the most essential element: water.

“The main preventive measure against the coronavirus is washing your hands, and we don’t even have water. We are not ready to fight that illness,” says Dora Colmenares, organization secretary of the Association of Physicians in Zulia, Venezuela’s most densely populated state with nearly 4 million inhabitants.

Coronavirus, a respiratory infection, has caused more than 5,000 deaths, with about 130,000 people infected worldwide. Venezuela’s neighboring countries, such as Brazil, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic, have confirmed cases in their territories.

People infected with the disease might require inpatient care, and the quality of these services in Venezuela has seriously deteriorated, according to the report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

The imminent threat has raised concerns among physician and nursing unions of Venezuela, their representatives told Voice of America.

Colmenares, a surgeon at Maracaibo University Hospital, one of the most important hospitals in the country, says that fear prevails among her colleagues.

“There is fear. Health has regressed to 19th century levels in Venezuela. There aren’t any blood pressure monitors or alcohol in our hospitals. There’s no water… water!” she says, stressing on the lack of water in health centers of the region that border Colombia.

The professor at the School of Medicine of Zulia University said that Venezuela’s Ministry of Health has not disclosed epidemiology reports since 2016.

Colmenares says that most intensive care units in Zulia are “practically shut down. […] If a patient who’s infected [with coronavirus] seeks assistance, where will they be treated? What medication are we going to provide?” she asks.

No electricity, water, or ventilation
The stench of urine and feces pervades in the hallways on the first floor of Maracaibo University Hospital, in the afternoon of March 2. The only and poorly operating restroom on that floor, used by both men and women, is only steps away from the pediatrics area and operating rooms.

A masked employee mops the floor, flooded with brown, fetid water — the toilet has broken down.

In the hallways, signs display information about diabetes and other illnesses. No sign warns or offers recommendations about the coronavirus.

Bachelet’s report, published in June 2019, mentioned water among the “major determinants of health,” which are scarce in Venezuelan hospitals.

According to the document, which the Nicolás Maduro regime rejected, Venezuela’s health situation is “critical.”

Hania Salazar, head of Zulia’s Nursing Association, said that none of the hospitals in the region are appropriately equipped to eventually assist coronavirus-infected patients.

Health centers, she says, lack potable water and antiseptic soap for doctors and nurses to wash their hands.

Unsanitary conditions in the region are so “critical” that there isn’t a single hospital with functioning restrooms, she says, citing reports from her union.

Salazar believes that cleaning and sterilizing hospitals will be practically impossible in the country during a widespread coronavirus outbreak.

“Some hospital areas are shut down due to lack of electricity or sanitation. What do I do with a mask, or 20 million masks, if I don’t have electricity, water, ventilation; if there is no proper sanitation?” she says.