Venezuela Ranks Poorly for the Safety and Well-Being of its Elderly Population


Venezuela is not a very good place to grow old.

The 2014 Global AgeWatch Index, developed by HelpAge International, ranks Venezuela among the bottom quarter of the index, alongside many impoverished African nations.

Venezuela is ranked 76th out of 96 nations, well below any other South American country.

The index is based on 13 indicators grouped into four areas: income security; health status; capability, which includes employment and educational status; and the enabling environment, including issues such as physical safety.

The challenge of obtaining quality, affordable healthcare in Venezuela is no secret. Between the lack of medicine in the country’s drug stores, the dearth of doctors, the resurgence of endemic diseases, and the violence in the country’s hospitals, Venezuela’s health care sector is not in good shape.

While Venezuela ranked above the regional average in the health categories, including life expectancy and psychological/mental well-being, the country ranked 93rd for “enabling societies and environment.” This category covered seniors’ physical safety, civic freedom, social connections, and access to public transport.

The alarming incidence of crime inside health care facilities is part of the reason over half of the nation’s physicians have emigrated in search of better opportunities, according to the Venezuelan Doctors Federation.

The crisis in the country’s healthcare system is partly caused by severe underfunding. Official estimates put overall national health care spending at 4.6% of GDP, far below the Latin American average of 7.6%. The United Nations says that the government spends three times as much on subsidizing gasoline as it does on public health care spending.

The overall decay in the healthcare system means that endemic diseases, such as dengue fever and malaria, have made a strong comeback. Late last week, doctors in Maracay said that eight people had died in a short period of time from a mysterious illness that caused internal bleeding and high fevers. The doctors asked the government to investigate, but the government has responded by calling the doctors “terrorists” and announcing legal actions against the president of the Maracay medical association.

It’s not just these deadly endemic diseases that are causing problems. Something as simple and common as back pain goes untreated and worsens without the proper care. Seniors are especially likely to suffer from lower back pain related to degeneration of the joints of the spine.

Two of the most common causes of lower back pain in older adults include osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis. Lower back pain also commonly results from years of strain in the workplace. For example, in the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 650,000 work-related musculoskeletal disorders in 2010.

Venezuela also ranked low in the income security domain (67), with the highest old-age poverty rate in the region (38%). This is in spite of the fact that it recorded a near-average pension income coverage (54.2%), and a high relative welfare and GDP.

Norway ranked as the best place to grow old, according to the AgeWatch Index, with Afghanistan in last place. All but one of the top 10 countries are in Western Europe, North America, and Australasia, with Japan as the only exception. The ranking comprised 91% of the global population over the age of 60.