Venezuelan AIDS-deaths double in five years amid mounting health crisis

09 November 2016

AIDS-related deaths in Venezuela have nearly doubled in just five years, with a public health crisis severely affecting the government's ability to control the epidemic.  

Concerns have been raised about the shortage of antiretroviral drugs available for people living with HIV in Venezuela, which is in the midst of a mounting health crisis according to civil society and public health experts.

The Venezuelan Society of Infectious Diseases (SIV) issued a statement on Monday (November 7) saying supplies of key drugs used for the treatment of HIV are dangerously low and in danger of stock-out. These drug shortages mean that there are currently no treatment options considered first-rate under international guidelines.

"The shortage of antiretroviral drugs and reagents makes it impossible to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country, making it difficult to control the transmission of the virus from the mother to her children and in the general population.”

Venezuela currently has 110,000 people living with HIV, with 5,600 new infections in 2015 – a number that has remained relatively steady in recent years. In contrast, the number of AIDS-related deaths in the country has nearly doubled, from 1,700 in 2010 to 3,300 in 2015.

Local HIV groups have been raising the alarm about drug stock-outs for the better part of 2016 – with people in many parts of the country left without vital treatment since March. Civil society blame government inaction and have been forced to procure donated drugs from abroad, which they then attempt to smuggle into the country.

Drug stock-outs mean that people living with HIV cannot access treatment, putting their health at risk while also giving the virus the opportunity to become resistant to treatment.  

“We are working in the same conditions as many African countries,” said a doctor at Catia hospital in Caracas, who treats people living with HIV.

The Venezuelan government has been providing antiretroviral treatment to people living with HIV in the country for the last 18 years. But a social and economic crisis as a result of political turmoil has had dire outcomes for the delivery of health services in the country.
One in three patients admitted to Venezuelan hospitals in 2014 ended up dying. Less than half of all operating theatres are fully operational. An estimated 76% of hospitals suffer from scarcity of medicines, 81% have a lack of surgical materials and 70% complain of intermittent water supply. According to a national drugstore trade group – the country is running short on 85% of medicines.

Maritza Landaeta, a senior member of the Health Observator in Venezuela said: “We are seeing a collapse in the public health system. […] Venezuela is witnessing a miracle, a miracle of destruction.”

Photo credit:
andresAzp/ CC-BY

Written by Caitlin Mahon

Content Specialist - HIV & Sexual Health