More and more sick Venezuelans are fleeing to Colombia for one simple reason: there is no more medicine on their side of the border.
Due to the ongoing political violence and food shortages in Venezuela, buses full of Venezuelan citizens are poring into Colombia every day. Even educated professionals are taking one-way trips across the border, sometimes sleeping in bus stations. In the United States, buses are the only reliable form of intercity transport for at least 14 million rural Americans. In Venezuela, they have become a common means of not just transportation, but also a means of escape.
Because in addition to the violence and protests, Venezuela has been experiencing a crippling increase in child deaths from preventable diseases. As a result, desperate parents flee to neighboring countries for basic healthcare services. This comes at a time when hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans are dealing with crippling food shortages and inadequate health supplies under tyrannical leader President Maduro.
As a means of revolt, Venezuelans are going to the streets to protest Maduro’s presidency, which has plunged the country into a severe economic collapse and constitutional crisis. The riots have been going on for three consecutive months, and many Venezuelans are getting injured by both other rioters and members of the police. This rampant violence only further increases the need for medical care all over the country, but according to doctors, there simply is no supply.
The Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela reports that Venezuela has been suffering an 85% shortage of medicine and a 90% deficit of additional medical supplies. This includes everything from antiseptic for a small cut to medications needed to treat cancer. This persistent shortage means that virtually all 31 million Venezuelans are forced to go without adequate medical care.
Lack of medical care seems to affect the younger population the most — NBC News reports that the Catholic nonprofit organization Caritas has found that back in October, 48% of Venezuelan children five years and younger were malnourished. By April, that figure would rise to 56%.
Additionally, the survey showed that within that time, the risk of dying from malnutrition rose from 8% to 11.4%.
Of these young patients, infants suffered the most. In 2016, 31 infants died every day on average due to conditions such as diarrhea, bacterial infections, and similar diseases that could have been prevented with simple antibiotics and other medicines. For perspective, deaths of Venezuelan infants younger than one increased 30% in 2016, which is a stark comparison to other Latin American countries.
What’s worse is that the hospitals don’t have any medication or supplies to offer sick kids, leaving desperate parents to scavenge through dumpsters, steal some form of nourishment, or flee to Colombia.
Take Lideibis Bracho, a 26-year-old mother, who told NBC News that one of her children died from malnutrition in March, and her other son was recently released from a one-week stint in the hospital for chronic nutrition. Upon her son’s release, Bracho was given nothing.
She explains, “We were told to take vitamins but couldn’t find them. We went to search in Colombia, but they’re too expensive.”
So this is why Venezuelans are fleeing to other more well off countries such as Colombia and the United States. But affording the healthcare in these countries still poses a severe problem due to the lack of savings these refugees currently have.
Even if they do make it to another nation, it is safe to say that Venezuelan refugees won’t be able to afford healthcare without some sort of governmental aid. In the United States, the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey finds that the average emergency room visitor pays a total cost of $1,318 and a mean cost of $615 every time they are treated.
So for the citizens of Venezuela, there seems to be no end in sight to the unrest, starvation, and rampant malnutrition happening on the streets.