A joint study conducted by professionals from the Netherlands and Venezuela says that final estimates for 2018 could show more than 1 million cases of malaria in Venezuela alone.
The country — which was once a leader in public health policies and disease control in Latin America — is now facing a re-emergence of many deadly diseases on a scale scientists describe as “an epidemic of unprecedented proportions”.
Via The Guardian:
Venezuela crisis threatens disease epidemic across continent – experts
Collapse of Venezuela’s healthcare system could fuel spread of malaria and other diseases across region
Experts have warned of an epidemic of diseases such as malaria and dengue on an unprecedented scale in Latin America following the collapse of the healthcare system in Venezuela
Continent-wide public health gains of the last 18 years could be undone if Venezuela does not accept help to control the spreading outbreaks of malaria, Zika, dengue and other illnesses that are afflicting its people, experts have warned in a report published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Venezuela was once a regional leader in malaria control, but as healthcare has collapsed there has been a mass departure of trained medics, the report says, creating a public emergency “of hemispheric concern”
“These diseases have already extended into neighbouring Brazil and Colombia, and with increasing air travel and human migration, most of the Latin American and Caribbean region (as well as some US cities hosting the Venezuelan diaspora, including Miami and Houston) is at heightened risk for disease re-emergence,” says the paper.
The lead author, Dr Martin Llewellyn, based at the University of Glasgow, has called for global action. “The re-emergence of diseases such as malaria in Venezuela has set in place an epidemic of unprecedented proportions, not only in the country but across the whole region,” he said.
“Based on the data we have collected we would urge national, regional and global authorities to take immediate action to address these worsening epidemics and prevent their expansion beyond Venezuelan borders.”
He said that the figures were probably an underestimate because the Venezuelan government had shut down the institution responsible for collecting data for the World Health Organization.
“Venezuelan clinicians involved in this study have also been threatened with jail, while laboratories have been robbed by militias, hard drives removed from computers, microscopes and other medical equipment smashed,” he said.
Malaria cases, in a country certified to have eradicated the disease in 1961, rose by 359% between 2010-15, from 29,736 to 136,402. They surged 71% from 2016-17, to 411,586, because of a decline in mosquito control and a shortage of antimalarial drugs.
The epidemic has been supercharged by the rise of illegal mining in the jungle near the southern border with Brazil, where reservoirs of the disease survived despite its official elimination nationwide.
Venezuelans had flocked to the area in recent years to dig and pan for gold in wildcat mines, as the economy collapsed and hyperinflation eroded salaries for professionals and workers.
Stagnant water in pits and unsanitary camps provided a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos, and malaria was soon endemic at many of the mines. Some miners and their families have endured dozens of bouts of the disease.
One woman working near the town of Tumeremo said her four-year-old had already had 13 bouts of malaria. After the last one, doctors warned her: “You have to choose – your daughter or the mine.” She moved to a different pit, but the family cannot afford to leave the area.
The transitory nature of mining work means the area’s problems have gradually affected vast swathes of the country, as infected workers took the disease home with their gold, reintroducing malaria to areas where it had been eradicated.
“I’ve never been to the mines,” said David Guevara, a 39-year-old builder queuing for malaria treatment in the industrial port of Ciudad Guyana, nearly 125 miles (200km) from the nearest mining camps.
It is his second episode of the disease. “There are no controls [on malaria] now,” he said. “And it’s the children who are paying for this.”