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World UN urged to scale up Venezuela response as country’s health-care system ‘has almost completely collapsed’

Health care staff demonstrate outside Miguel Perez Carreno hospital in Caracas on March 11, 2019, as a massive power outage continues affecting some areas of the country.

CRISTIAN HERNANDEZ/AFP/Getty Images

The humanitarian emergency caused by the collapse of the Venezuelan health system requires a full-scale response by the United Nations, two organizations said Thursday.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Human Rights Watch called on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to have the UN emergency relief co-ordinator address Venezuela’s crisis as a top priority and to request official data from Venezuelan authorities in order to assess the scope of the crisis.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Mr. Guterres, said in response that the UN is “deeply concerned” by the situation in Venezuela and already has been scaling up operations, “focusing on nutrition, on health and protection.”

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He said staffing has grown from about 190 in September, 2017, to slightly more than 300 in March. “This has allowed us to equip hospitals with emergency medical supplies as well as generators, provide pregnant women and children with nutritional supplements and vaccinate more children”

But he declined to say if the UN was considering an emergency declaration, noting that it would need “the consent of the government, in order to distribute humanitarian aid along with our principles of neutrality and impartiality.”

The two organizations said in a 71-page joint report that the administration of President Nicolas Maduro has exacerbated the crisis through its efforts to suppress information about the problems.

“No matter how hard they try, Venezuelan authorities cannot hide the reality on the ground,” said Shannon Doocy, associate professor of international health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “We need UN leadership to help end this severe crisis and save lives.”

Venezuelan authorities have failed to publish health and nutrition data and retaliated against those who did, according to the report.

Mr. Maduro refused humanitarian aid for several years, saying it was unneeded and would amount to a foreign intervention to remove him from power.

Last week, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that it is poised to start distributing assistance to an estimated 650,000 people in the South American country.

That amount is well below the 3.7 million Venezuelans who were undernourished between 2015 and 2017, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“All the evidence indicates that the health system in Venezuela has almost completely collapsed,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, senior Americas researcher for Human Rights Watch. “We are facing a devastating humanitarian crisis that is unprecedented in Latin America.”

Besides the lack of food and medicines, the report documents increased numbers of maternal and infant deaths, the unchecked spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and sharp increases in the transmission of infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.

The authors interviewed more than 150 people, including health care professionals, Venezuelans seeking or in need of medical care or food who had recently arrived in Colombia and Brazil, representatives from international and non-governmental humanitarian organizations, UN officials, and Brazilian and Colombian government officials.

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