More specifically, the border town of Cucuta, Colombia is struggling to give medical care to Venezuelans that are fleeing their country in search of adequate health services.
Cucuta’s main hospital has reached peak capacity and has collected a large amount of debt as they try to help Venezuelans who are in desperate need of medical attention. The hospital says a good majority of these patients fleeing are women in labor, which is especially worrisome as the Venezuelan president just fired the country’s health minister over a dramatic increase of maternal fatalities.
Earlier in May, President Maduro fired health minister Antonieta Caporale after federal officials released health data showing a staggering increase in both infant and maternal deaths within the past two years.
CNN reports that the number of maternal deaths in Venezuela is up 66% since 2015, and infant death has increased 30%. More surprisingly, there has been a shocking increase in malaria cases, a 76% growth in 2016 compared to 2015.
What’s more is that the hospitals in Venezuela now require all their patients to bring their own medical supplies. This includes prescriptions, gauze pads, needles, and anesthesia, but the problem is there is no medication to be had. Statistics from the Venezuela Pharmaceutical Federation show that in June 2016, there was an 80% shortage in medication availability. Today, experts believe this number has even increased, which only adds to the problems these patients face.
Venezuelan Eugenia Morin explains that the federal government simply doesn’t offer any health assistance for even the smallest of surgeries. She tells CNN, “If you need to have an operation, nowadays, you must bring your own medicines to the hospital. There are no supplies to attend the most basic emergencies.”
Even if a Venezuelan can afford the medication and supplies, they most likely cannot afford the procedure that goes with them. Fox News spoke to Miriam Rivera after her son broke his clavicle, but the plate and surgery he needed to repair the bone cost $100. For perspective, the monthly minimum wage in Venezuela is only $15.
This comes at a stark contrast to the American federal and state public assistance program, Medicaid. Medicaid is meant for retired persons — the average age of retirement in the nation is 63, and seniors who are retired are mostly in a lower income bracket — and those who are disabled and do not have the resources to fully pay for health care. All states offer a Medicaid program, even though eligibility and coverage levels differ, which is quite different than the norm in Venezuela, where every patient has to fend for themselves.
With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that Venezuelans are literally running to Colombia to get the medical attention they need so badly. However, even though the Colombian doctors cannot turn patients away, these Venezuelans are causing the country to amass a lot of debt.
According to Fox News, the Erasmo Meoz Hospital in Cucuta has seen 1,000 Venezuelans within the first quarter of the year. Hospital officials estimate that this number will grow to 4,000 by December.
The Meoz Hospital has acquired the equivalent of $1.3 million American dollars in debt just in the past few months. The hospital’s administrator Soraya Caceres believes this is unfair to her own people, as the hospital should use this money to care for those putting money into the Colombian health care system.
Despite Caceres’s belief, the Colombian health minister is committing $3.3 million to keep helping Venezuelans, even though he has put a stop to treating costly conditions. Their goal is to only provide basic humanitarian aid, which can help the thousands of Venezuelans who have to wait months in their own country to get treated.
But for now, Venezuelans are left fleeing to Colombia for treatment, and Colombia is left footing the bill. While President Maduro has fired the country’s health minister, he has not responded publicly to Colombia’s financial frustrations. First, he would have to admit his country has a problem at all.