Thu, May 11, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Infant mortality, malaria soaring in Venezuela: data

Reuters, CARACAS

Venezuela’s infant mortality rose 30 percent last year, maternal mortality shot up 65 percent and cases of malaria jumped 76 percent, according to government data, sharp increases reflecting how the country’s deep economic crisis has hammered at citizens’ health.

The statistics, issued on the Venezuelan Ministry of Health’s Web site after nearly two years of data silence from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s left-wing administration, also showed a jump in illnesses such as diphtheria and the Zika virus.

It was not immediately clear when the ministry posted the data, although local media reported on the statistics on Tuesday.

Recession and currency controls in the oil-exporting South American nation have slashed both local production and imports of foreign goods and Venezuelans are facing shortages of everything from rice to vaccines. The opposition has organized weeks of protests against Maduro, accusing him of dictatorial rule and calling for elections.

In the health sector, doctors have emigrated in droves and patients have to settle for second-rate treatment or none at all.

A leading pharmaceutical association has said about 85 percent of medicines are running short.

Venezuelans often barter medicine, post pleas on social media, travel to neighboring countries if they can afford it, or line up for hours at pharmacies.

The health ministry had stopped releasing figures after July 2015, amid a wider data blackout. It was not clear why it published this latest batch of data.

Its statistics for last year showed infant mortality last year climbed 30.12 percent to 11,466 cases. The report cited neonatal sepsis, pneumonia, respiratory distress syndrome and prematurity as the main causes.

Hospitals often lack basic equipment such as incubators and pregnant women are struggling to eat well, including taking folic acid, factors that can affect a baby’s health.

Maternal mortality, or death while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of a pregnancy, was also up, rising 65.79 percent to 756 deaths, the report said.

The ministry did not respond to a request for further information.

Maduro’s administration says a coup-mongering elite is hoarding medicines to stoke unrest.

While Venezuelans are acutely aware of the country’s health issues, the ministry’s statistics bulletin shocked some in the medical community.

Doctors say the health bulletins, meant to be released weekly, should be published in a timely fashion to alert medical practitioners to national trends and threats.

There were 240,613 cases of malaria last year, up 76.4 percent compared with 2015, with most cases of the mosquito-borne disease reported in the rough-and-tumble Bolivar State.

Cases of Zika rose to 59,348 from 71 in 2015, reflecting the spread of the mosquito-borne virus around Latin America last year.

There was no data for likely Zika-linked microcephaly, where babies are born with small heads, although doctors say there have been at least several dozen cases.

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