CARACAS, Venezuela, Thursday February 25, 2016 – Venezuelan opposition legislator José Manuel Olivares has added his voice to claims that the country has under-reported hundreds of thousands of cases of the Zika virus currently sweeping the region.
Olivares assertion joins similar concerns shared by everyone from members of the local medical fraternity to the health minister of neighbouring Colombia.
“I hope that President Nicolas Maduro will not continue putting policy and ideology before the health and life of Venezuelans,” said Olivares, who also claims that the socialist country lacks the necessary supplies to effectively combat the outbreak.
Olivares, chair of the subcommittee on health in Venezuela’s National Assembly, estimates that between 400,000 and 500,000 Venezuelans have contracted the Zika virus.
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He recently visited Washington to appeal for aid from the World Health Organization (WHO).
“What we did was provide continuity to the declaration of the humanitarian health crisis that the Venezuelan Parliament made,” he told Infobae.
“This declaration seeks to solve the health crisis in the country, marking a roadmap to seek solutions to the deep crisis of health, lack of medicines, increases in the levels of maternal mortality, cancer mortality, and child mortality.”
Last month, Venezuela’s Pharmaceutical Federation declared a “humanitarian emergency,” announcing that 150 drugs were completely unavailable nationwide.
Some pharmacies had even resorted to selling veterinary medications to people as a last resort, they said.
On February 12, the government confirmed three deaths related to Zika while also noting an increase in the rare Guillain-Barré syndrome.
President Maduro said officials only confirmed 319 cases of Zika, but doctors have monitored 5,221 suspected cases since February 8. At that time, doctors documented 21 deaths related to the syndrome.
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Olivares accused the government of lying.
“In its first statement about Zika, the government says it has only 3,000 suspected cases and acknowledges 255 cases of the Guillain-Barré syndrome,” he said.
“When one reviews the literature, you realize that one in 1,000 to 2,000 cases of Zika developed the syndrome. That is the statistic.
“This means the numbers don’t add up. This is a big lie from the government because if you have 255 Guillain-Barré cases you cannot have 3,000 suspected cases of Zika. You have to have at least 250,000…
“From November to the first week of February there were almost 360,000 cases of fever. We do not know why. They are extras and different from those expected these months. We maintain that there are 400,000 to 500,000 cases of Zika in Venezuela.”
His statements echoed concerns expressed by Colombian Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria, who claimed that Venezuela has hidden hundreds of thousands of Zika cases, which could cause major problems for the other South and Central American countries fighting the disease.
Gaviria insists the socialist country is the weakest link in the fight because officials have “no systematic reporting of the data.” The lack of data worries Colombian officials because the countries share borders.
The Norte de Santandar province of Colombia, which shares a border with Venezuela, has the highest number of Zika cases in Colombia. It also has the largest amount of pregnant women with the virus.
“This is a serious problem,” Gaviria said.
In Venezuela, the local medical community has demanded that officials publish all statistics on the Zika virus. The publication of epidemic lists ceased last year.
“The Ministry of Health must be the first to issue warnings about the existence of a public health threat; they cannot be the last one to speak,” said Jose Oletta, former health minister who now works with the Network to Defend National Epidemiology.
“We already have a weakened health care system, which tends to make these problems spread more rapidly. Add to that the lack of information and it’s a perfect storm.”
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan Society of Public Health claimed surveys from non-governmental organizations discovered “a rise of acute fever in the past six months that could correspond to 400,000 cases of Zika.”
China recently confirmed its first Zika case after a 34-year-old man returned from Venezuela.