Poorly reported deaths, slow vaccination and presidential lies: the COVID crisis in Venezuela
About fifteen students stood in front of the Caracas University Hospital in the Venezuelan capital, behind them a sinister setting: trash bags arranged to look like corpses. The students were in mourning and angry. For them, the deaths of several hundred health workers from COVID-19 were personal. Many of them knew the doctors who suffered from the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and poor conditions in Venezuelan hospitals. Student advisor JesÃºs Mendoza attributed the handling of the pandemic to another of NicolÃ¡s Maduro’s sorely broken promises. The authoritarian president of Venezuela had guaranteed ten million doses of the vaccine in May, but succeeded in securing barely a quarter, not enough to cover even the most vulnerable of the country’s population.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan medical community warns that official COVID data is not credible and that inadequate testing means there is little indication of the severity of the pandemic. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Venezuela tests between 2,100 and 2,600 people per day, compared to 25,000 to 35,000 in Colombia.
As of June 14, Maduro’s government had recorded just 2,764 deaths in Venezuela, which is low compared to numbers reported by its neighbors. Colombia had recorded 95,000 deaths by the same date, Ecuador 21,000 and Peru 187,000.
“The cases and deaths are underreported and even misclassified,” said Dr Julio Castro, an infectious disease expert who advises the Venezuelan political opposition and is part of a joint government-opposition task force set up to coordinate the country’s response to the pandemic. Castro, who monitors hospitals across Venezuela through the national network of doctors MÃ©dicos por la Salud, notes that this organization has found that the weekly coronavirus death toll compiled by the government omits patients who have not been tested or whose results did not arrive on time. An unpublished report from May 23 said 6,996 people had died from flu-like illness, while official data had reported 2,499 COVID deaths at that time.
Even so, he says, “the actual number of cases per 100,000 people in Venezuela is certainly lower than in countries like Colombia, Peru and Chile.” The situation in Venezuela, Castro said, cannot be compared to the horrors of Ecuador, where bodies pile up on the streets of the largest city, Guayaquil. And it’s not like in Chile, where military planes transported COVID patients to other cities because hospitals in Santiago had collapsed. âThere is no doubt that the scale (of the pandemic) has been smaller in Venezuela for various reasons. “
One of them, ironically, is the precarious state of the Venezuelan economy and its inability to provide efficient public transport. âOne way to control the outbreak is to limit fuel supplies,â Castro said. âI don’t think Maduro voluntarily controlled the spread of COVID-19. The impact of the pandemic has been reduced by fuel shortages and hyperinflation, which are unique conditions from a regional perspective. Life has become something similar to places in sub-Saharan Africa. People only go to supermarkets to buy essentials and rarely go to restaurants, clubs, or cinemas, which are the kind of places that generate more transmission. “