A young woman, who has a tumor in one of her lungs, lies in a bed in the Vargas Public Hospital in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 5, 2019.
A young woman, who has a tumor in one of her lungs, lies in a bed in the Vargas Public Hospital in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 5, 2019.

GENEVA - U.N. and international health agencies say Venezuela’s health care crisis is causing a rise in infectious diseases and the re-emergence of illnesses such as malaria and tuberculosis, once considered vanquished.

The World Health Organization (WHO) blames Venezuela’s complex political and socio-economic situation for the virtual collapse of the country’s health care system.  It says the system is under stress because of a shortage of doctors and nurses who have left the country, as well as a lack of medical supplies and other factors.

WHO spokesman Tarek Jasarevic says this is having an adverse impact on many essential programs, including those related to disease prevention and control.  He told VOA immunizing children against killer diseases has been a major casualty of the deteriorating health services in the country.  

He said the first recent case of measles in the country was reported in July 2017. Since then, he said, there have been nearly 6,400 confirmed cases, including 76 deaths.  Jasarevic said a similar situation has arisen with diphtheria, and that an outbreak of the disease in July 2016 lasted until January of this year, causing more than 2,500 cases and 270 deaths.

FILE - A dilapidated room is seen at the Jose Greg
FILE - A dilapidated room is seen at the Jose Gregorio Hernandez Hospital in the slum of Catia in Caracas, Venezuela, Nov. 20, 2018.

“That is why there was a push for vaccination, and as a result of a concerted effort to halt the measles outbreak between April and December 2018, more than 8 million children between the ages of six months and 15 years were vaccinated against measles, and 4.8 million children between the ages of seven and 15 years were vaccinated against diphtheria,” Jasarevic said.

WHO reports malaria cases in Venezuela have increased significantly over the past three years, nearly tripling from over 136,000 in 2015 to more than 400,000 cases in 2017.  It attributes this rise to the migration of people infected in the mining areas of Bolivar state into other areas of the country, as well as a shortage of antimalarial drugs.

Jasarevic said the WHO is supporting 23 hospitals, training health personnel and preventing infectious diseases.  He said about 50 tons of supplies and medicines have been distributed across all hospitals.

More than 3 million Venezuelans have fled to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil to escape what is considered the worst humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere.