Venezuela’s economic crisis exacerbates deadly shortage of HIV medicines

World Today

Venezuela’s economic crisis is taking a toll on the fight against AIDS. Advocates are concerned about medicine shortages that affect nearly 80 percent of Venezuelans with HIV.

As CGTN’s Juan Carlos Lamas reports, the consequences have been deadly.

Follow Juan Carlos Rivas Lamas on Twitter @JuanRivasLamas

Patients, health professionals and human rights activists are all demanding that their government find a way to bring medicine to Venezuela – a country where surging prices and severe shortages are devastating for people who are HIV-positive.

“Over the last two months I visited more than 60 people who were HIV positive like I am,” said Mauricio Gutierrez, an LGBTQ advocate and social worker. “60 people who died because they couldn’t find the pills they needed.”

According to the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela, nearly 1,000 essential medicines are unavailable in the country. That includes most of the antiretroviral drugs that can help slow down HIV and fight infection.

“Out of 23 antiretroviral drugs which used to be imported in Venezuela, only three of these drugs arrived in October,” said Jonathan Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is president of ‘Stop HIV’, an NGO that collects medicine from Venezuelans living abroad to distribute to HIV patients in the country – even if he can only provide a partial dose. But with just one missed dose the virus can become more resistant and more dangerous.

However, a dearth of drugs isn’t the only issue in this country’s fight against HIV/AIDS. Condoms, which for years the government provided for free — now cost almost a full day’s minimum wage for a six-pack. And the baby formula that HIV positive women need to avoid passing the virus on to their children through breastfeeding is both hard to find and expensive. Only the wealthiest Venezuelans can afford it.

President Nicolas Maduro has said his government is the victim of an international conspiracy. He blames the shortages on an economic war against Venezuela that he says is led by the U.S., which imposed severe economic sanctions over the summer.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, patients are wondering when their voices will be finally heard, and questioning how many more people will die before politicians find a way for them to get their medicine.