Venezuela sees a sharp rise in child mortalities | News | DW | 11.05.2017
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Venezuela sees a sharp rise in child mortalities

The infant mortality rate in Venezuela rose 30 percent last year. Data released by the government reflects how the country's deep-seated economic crisis has affected the population's health.

The Venezuelan Health Ministry announced this week that there were just under 11,500 child deaths last year, a significant rise from 2015.

The ministry cited neonatal sepsis, pneumonia, respiratory distress syndrome, and prematurity as the main causes.

The health report, the first statistics released by the government of President Nicolas Maduro in almost two years, reflects how Venezuela's economic and political crisis has been a catastrophe for the health system.

Once the region's most prosperous country, recession and currency controls have slashed Venezuela's supply of medicines and vaccines, as well as basic provisions such as food and hygiene products. Doctors have also emigrated in droves, leaving patients with second-rate health treatment, if any at all.

The Venezuelan Pharmaceuticals Federation estimates some 85 percent of drugs and medicine are either unavailable or running short. In March, Maduro pleaded with the United Nations for aid to ease the country's medicine shortages.

Read more: Desperate Venezuelans seek life-saving medicines on a wide-open Twitter black market

While citizens are all too aware of Venezuela's health crisis, this week's report still sent shock waves through the medical community. 

"The striking part is turmoil in almost all the categories that this bulletin addresses, with particularly significant increases in the infant and maternal health categories," Dr. Julio Castro, an infectious disease specialist and a critic of the government's health policies, told Reuters news agency.

Doctors also criticized the government for spontaneously publishing the data. Such health bulletins, they said, should be published in a timely manner to alert medical practitioners of national trends or threats.

Read more: 5 things to understand about oil-rich, cash-poor Venezuela

Maternal mortality and diseases also rise

Maternal mortality, or deaths while pregnant or within 42 days after giving birth, also rose by over 65 percent in 2016 to 756 cases, according to the report.

Another major concern flagged by the report was the resurgence of diseases that had previously been under control. Diphtheria, for instance, a bacterial infection that is fatal in around 50 percent of cases, had been wiped out in Venezuela in the 1990s and has become increasingly rare the world over thanks to immunizations. However, data showed that the illness had affected 324 Venezuelans in 2016, up from the no cases the year before.

Cases of malaria, also once thought to have been eradicated in Venezuela, rose by more than 75 percent in 2016 from the year before, affecting almost 250,000 people. The tropical mosquito-borne disease was reportedly most common in the rural Bolivar state.

Cases of Zika also rose to almost 60,000 cases last year from just 71. These numbers reflected the spread of the virus across South America, particularly in Brazil, between 2015 and 2016.

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More protesters killed in Venezuela unrest

Crises and protests

The opposition has blamed the Maduro government for Venezuela's deep-seated crisis and shortage in basic supplies.

However, a decision by Venezuela's Supreme Court at the end of March to strip the opposition-controlled legislative branch of its powers prompted violent protests across the country. 

Two more deaths were reported by the Interior Ministry Wednesday night, taking the total death toll to 38 since protests broke out in April. A 27-year-old was shot and killed in the capital, Caracas, and a 38-year-old died after being shot in the head two days earlier in the western city of Merida, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said. 

Each side blames the other for the violence.

dm/kms (AFP, Reuters, epd)

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