Andrés Barreto Ruiz is an epidemiologist and member of Medicos Unidos Venezuela.

The deaths of healthcare workers are linked to their working conditions, because they lack everything: N95 masks, conventional surgical masks, face shields, gowns, protective glasses, gloves, etc. They may have to use the same mask or the same blouse for a week or more. In addition, there are not enough hydroalcoholic solutions, and the majority of hospitals do not have drinking water 24 hours a day, soap, or medical imaging equipment [bien que ces problèmes ne soient pas nouveaux, NDLR].

Applause to greet, this time, a doctor who recovered from Covid-19, in Caracas.

A doctor recovering from Covid-19 in Anzoátegui state.

In addition, at the start of the pandemic, authorities lied about the number of cases in the country. For example, hospital directors have attempted to hide cases, signing death certificates containing false information about the reason for the death of patients. Not to mention that there were few tests then. As a result, some healthcare workers were not necessarily vigilant enough about protective measures at first, believing the situation was under control.

But then they became aware of their vulnerability, with the rising number of deaths. They have started to protest publicly against the lack of protection in some health facilities.

Workers at a hospital in Portuguesa state protest the lack of protection.

Protest for the same reasons, in a hospital in the state of Nueva Esparta.

Another problem: at some point, [le président vénézuélien] Nicolás Maduro ordered all patients who tested positive for Covid-19 to be hospitalized, even asymptomatic [en juillet, NDLR], which quickly exhausted the scarce resources devoted to the fight against the pandemic.

Currently, I think we are “surviving” on the little humanitarian aid entering the country, through the Pan American Health Organization and the Red Cross. But the needs are such that this aid remains largely insufficient. In addition, Cuban doctors arrived to help us [à partir d’août, NDLR], and civil society has organized to try to help hospitals.

In mid-July, the NGO Médicos Unidos Venezuela and other associations launched a campaign entitled “Protect them against Covid-19”. The goal: to raise funds to buy personal protective equipment and disinfectant products for the “least protected” health workers.

Protective gear given to workers in a Caracas hospital, thanks to the “Protect them from Covid-19” campaign.

Twelve healthcare workers arrested for denouncing their working conditions

On August 18, Amnesty International published a communicated denouncing the fact that the Venezuelan authorities had asked the population to applaud the health workers, but that they were “not doing what is necessary” to protect them. She also points out that 12 of them have even been arrested since the start of the pandemic, for having openly denounced their working conditions.

Applause as he leaves a hospital in Trujillo state as the body of another healthcare worker is carried away under a tarp.

Working conditions already “unacceptable” before the pandemic

The situation of health personnel is all the more delicate as their working conditions were already extremely precarious before the pandemic, as Virgilio Vasquez, another epidemiologist from Médicos Unidos Venezuela, recalls, interviewed by our editorial staff:

The working conditions are unacceptable. Regarding salary, a doctor at the end of his career earns a maximum of $ 20 per month, which does not even buy enough food. In addition, due to the lack of public transport, many walk to work or are driven by someone with a vehicle. But with the pandemic, people are afraid to carry passengers. And those who have their own vehicle are forced to queue, sometimes for several days, to refuel. In addition, the lack of materials and drugs is chronic.

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In his communicatedAmnesty International reports that health workers earn between $ 4 and $ 18 per month. It also uses figures from Monitor Salud, a civil society organization, according to which 68% of 296 healthcare professionals surveyed in Caracas between March and June arrived at work on an empty stomach before taking up their post. This partly explains why about 50% of the country’s doctors have gone abroad in recent years, according to the Federation of Venezuelan Doctors.

Article written by Chloe Lauvergnier.

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