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Mon Mar 23, 2020, 03:22 PM

Venezuela's broken health system is uniquely vulnerable to coronavirus.


As in many hospitals in this collapsed socialist state, even washing hands is a luxury. The hospital has run out of soap, leaving doctors to bring their own, when possible. None of the six X-ray machines works. Without cleaning products to disinfect surfaces — including those in the waiting room where suspected coronavirus patients are held — hospital infections are common. A shipment of gloves and masks arrived Friday; doctors say they had gone a full month without them. Current supplies, they say, will run out in one week.

“If we start getting large numbers of patients, we will collapse,” said Maria Eugenia Landaeta, head of the infectious-diseases department at Caracas University Hospital. “Long lines of patients waiting, all beds full and patients we won’t be able to hospitalize. To sum up: total chaos.”

[As the health system collapses, disease is spilling over Venezuela’s borders]

Analysts say Venezuela, already struggling under a dangerous mix of gaps in clean water and soap, underequipped and inadequately supplied public hospitals and authoritarian red tape, is uniquely vulnerable to the pandemic. As the government of President Nicolás Maduro tries to roll out a historic response to a global challenge it is ill-equipped to confront, Venezuela’s neighbors increasingly fear that the country will become a petri dish for the novel coronavirus, hemorrhaging infected migrants and spreading the virus across hard-to-control borders.

“An explosive number of cases would obviously surpass the ability of the Venezuelan health-care system, and will end up with many people demanding care in Colombia,” said Fernando Ruiz Gómez, Colombia’s health minister. “Intensive-care services will be most critical.”

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