Nearly 30 years after declaring polio eradicated in Venezuela, the first case of the disease has been reported in the country as it reels from a economic crash crippling its health care system.
The case in the eastern state of Delta Amacuro was reported as basic vaccine coverage has continued to fall amid the worsening political and economic crisis. The country is also facing a spike in other diseases, some also formerly eradicated, such as diphtheria, tuberculosis, measles, and malaria.
Polio, or poliomyelitis, can be a crippling childhood disease and is caused by the poliovirus, and is preventable through immunization.
In Delta Amacuro, vaccine coverage only reached 67 per cent, according to a local watchdog group.
“The government is not approving the money for the vaccines,” said Manuela Bolivar, an opposition MP, yesterday, who is part of a commission of the opposition-controlled National Assembly that is studying the surge of infectious diseases.
“This situation is unfortunate but we saw it coming, because we’ve been [said] for years that there are not enough vaccines,” she said.
While the government launched a vaccination campaign on April 6 against 14 disease including tuberculosis and measles, critics say not enough vaccines are arriving to cover the demand. As the country’s crisis has deepened, the government has struggled to afford imports of basic foods, medicines, and vaccines.
Marcos Carbono, with arm raised, and hundreds of Venezuelan exiles in Miami, protest the presidential elections in Venezuela and primarily against Nicolas Maduro at the Venezuelan consulate on Brickell Avenue on Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Miami.
Nicolas Maduro, the president, has blamed the deteriorating situation on an “economic war” led by business interests and the US to topple his socialist government, while denying that a humanitarian crisis exists.
According to Indhriana Parada, the vice-minister for health, the country “guarantees essential medicines through a system of distribution to the most vulnerable sectors”, a statement she made in a presentation to the World Health Organisation on May 23.
But other medical organisations such as CodeVida, which monitors the shortages of medicines, say that 90 per cent of medicines and essential vaccines have disappeared from pharmacy shelves.
Venezuela has also accounted for 85 percent of cases of measles reported across Latin America and the Caribbean over the past year, according to the Pan-American Health Organisation. Of the 11 countries that reported cases, Venezuela had the overwhelming majority of cases, but also 35 deaths since mid-2017, according to the group.
Cases of measles have been reported in 17 out of 23 of the country’s states and in Caracas, the capital.
Delta Amacuro is home to the Warao communities, an indigenous group that lives in riverside huts on the Orinoco Delta. The Warao have already been wracked by a HIV epidemic.