Transplants in Venezuela: A Struggle from Surgery to Medicine

Transplants in Venezuela: A Struggle from Surgery to Medicine

By Adriana Núñez Rabascall/Voice of America (VOA)
January 03, 2020

At least 3,000 transplant patients are at risk of losing their organs due to lack of treatment, while another 5,000 people are still on the waiting list because surgeries have been stopped, according to data from the Venezuelan National Transplant Organization (ONTV, in Spanish).

Libardo Laurens had a liver transplant 14 years ago, but today he worries about his health because two of the three drugs he needs to take monthly to keep his organ working are not available in Venezuela, or are too expensive, so he hasn’t taken them for months.

“If I stop treatment, I turn yellow in 30 days. I would lose my liver, because my body doesn’t recognize it and attacks it. And I’d be dead in 45 days tops,” he told Voice of America.

Like other people with his condition, he relies on family abroad to send medications, or on some nongovernmental organization to bring them to Venezuela.

“Patients are taking expired medicine. They are not taking prescriptions. Our doctors work as if they were in wartime. With what’s available. We take what’s available at the moment,” said Laurens.

He said that Venezuela used to have one of the best distribution systems for expensive medicine, but due to an “unsound health policy, a lack of knowledge by health authorities, a lack of knowledge by those responsible — in this case the IVSS [Venezuelan Institute of Social Security] — the quality of medicines worsened, until drugs disappeared.”

According to ONTV, the treatment for a patient with this condition should be administered for life, with a monthly cost of about $700. The country’s social security system distributed pharmaceuticals for free, but their entry into the country has been sporadic for the last two years.

“This means that all these patients, more than 3,000, are at risk of losing their transplants because they can’t take their immunosuppressant drugs daily,” Lucila Velutini, a member of the National Transplant Organization, told VOA.

The Venezuelan government says that the difficulties in bringing these medicines are due to what it describes as a blockade imposed by the United States and the European Union.

ONTV also warned that for the past two and a half years, transplants from deceased or brain-dead patients have been suspended, as established by Venezuelan laws.

This means that those waiting for organ transplants in the country “are sentenced,” said Velutini, who is related to a transplant recipient. The organization estimates that 5,000 people are at risk.

Hospitals in the country, Velutini said, cannot guarantee the preservation of these organs. In 2019, 10 patients from José Manuel de los Ríos Children’s Hospital died while waiting for a kidney transplant.