Venezuela urged to stop spread of measles, diphtheria

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WASHINGTON, June 23, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – The Pan American Health Organization
on Friday painted a bleak picture of Venezuela’s healthcare system, calling
for urgent action to stop the transmission of measles and diphtheria amid an
intensifying crisis that has seen an exodus of doctors.

The Americas were declared measles-free in 2016, but the viral disease,
which causes pneumonia, brain swelling and death made a comeback in Venezuela
last year, according to PAHO, which is the regional office for the World
Health Organization.

The first case was confirmed in July 2017 but as of June 2018 that figure
has risen to 2,285, with cases in 21 of Venezuela’s 24 states and the federal
capital.

In a report, PAHO blamed a breakdown in vaccine coverage, “leaving pockets
of susceptible population,” as well as inadequate monitoring and management.

There has also been a major outbreak of diphtheria, a bacterial infection
that makes it difficult to breathe and in severe cases causes heart and nerve
damage, with 1,086 cases confirmed from 2016-18 and a confirmed fatality rate
of 14.7 percent.

The malaria rate, meanwhile, increased almost four-fold from 2015 to 2017,
which had 406,289 cases.

President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government is in the midst of an
ever-deepening crisis with food and medicine in short supply.

That in turn has led to “a progressive loss of operational capacity in the
national health system,” the report said, with the Venezuelan Medical
Federation estimating that approximately 22,000 physicians have migrated out
of the country.

The figure represents a third of the country’s 66,138 doctors reported in
2014.

More than 1.6 million Venezuelans fled in 2017, raising public health
concerns in several neighboring countries, notably Colombia, Guyana, Ecuador
and Trinidad and Tobago, the report said.

But the report also noted Venezuela continues to have significant
healthcare capacity despite the challenges and was expanding its response to
the outbreaks with assistance from PAHO.

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