CARACAS, Venezuela, Monday May 15, 2017 – Venezuela has fired Health Minister Antonieta Caporale after her department released statistics revealing a shocking increase in infant and maternal mortality.
Vice-Minister of Hospitals Luis Lopez has been appointed to take her place, according to state media.
In the first figures released in two years, the Caporale-led health ministry said that the number of women dying in childbirth was up by 65 percent, while child deaths was up 30 percent. There has also been a jump in illnesses such as diphtheria and malaria.
The figures are a reflection of the country’s deep economic crisis, which the opposition attributes to government mismanagement.
In turn, President Nicolas Maduro maintains that the health crisis is caused by medicines being hoarded to encourage a coup against him.
Meanwhile, Venezuelans are grappling with acute shortages of everything from food to drugs and essential medical supplies.
A recent survey found that three-quarters of Venezuelans say their health has deteriorated and that they are eating less than two meals a day. Many report losing an average of around 19 pounds.
In the health sector, many doctors have emigrated. A leading pharmaceutical association has said around 85 percent of medicines are in short supply.
In February, health care workers staged a protest in Caracas against Maduro’s government, the lack of medicines and low salaries.
Last week, Dr Julio Castro, an infectious disease specialist and a critic of the government’s health policies, told Reuters news agency: “The striking part is the turmoil in almost all categories that this bulletin addresses, with particularly significant increases in the infant and maternal health categories.”
Many Venezuelans have crossed the border into Brazil or Colombia to buy medicine there and seek treatment in public hospitals in neighbouring countries.
The state of Roraima in Brazil declared a state of emergency to deal with thousands of Venezuelans seeking treatment by the public health service in small border towns.
Venezuela has been paralysed for over a month by increasingly violent demonstrations against the government, with protesters hurling stones, petrol bombs, paint and excrement.