The Americas

Venezuela's health care crisis overwhelms hospitals in neighboring Colombia

Venezuela’s health crisis is spilling over to neighboring Colombia, where the border town of Cucuta is struggling to provide the medical care increasingly unavailable in the socialist country.

As a result, Cucuta’s main hospital has amassed a monumental amount of debt as it helps out the thousands of Venezuelan patients that arrive every year from across the border. A large number of those are women in labor.

VENEZUELA'S HEALTH CRISIS NEARING CATASTROPHE, GOVERNMENT PLEADS FOR HELP

"In the first quarter of 2017, [Erasmo Meoz Hospital] admitted 1,000 Venezuelans. The increasing rate is worrying, as it could come to 4,000 migrants cared for by the end of this year,” said Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria to Bluradio earlier this month.

He said Venezuelan patients have cost Colombia about $1 million the past year.

By law, any patients who arrive at a hospital in Colombia are admitted to the emergency room at no cost — regardless of their nationality.

"In Venezuela they ask you to bring all the medicines [to the hospital where you are going to be admitted] and yet when you go to the pharmacy there is nothing," Miriam Rivera told Univision. Rivera's teen son fractured his left clavicle recently when he fell off his bicycle.

The woman said that in Ureña, where they reside, the plate needed to repair the fracture would have cost about $100, an astronomical amount in a country where the monthly minimum wage is $15.

According to Univision, Meoz Hospital is carrying a debt $1.3 million dollars for the treatment of Venezuelans.

"Resources are being spent that should be available to the rest of the [Colombian] population," said Meoz hospital administrator Soraya Caceres.

The health minister said the government is committing $3.3 million to keep assisting Venezuelans across the nation’s network of hospitals.

VENEZUELAN MILITARY TO TAKE OVER DISTRIBUTION OF MEDICAL SUPPLIES 

He noted, however, that they can’t provide the resources for patients with costly diseases or conditions.

"For now, we only provide humanitarian aid,” he said.

The heath crisis in Venezuela runs so deep that medications ranging from simple anti-inflammatory drugs to chemotherapy drugs are out of reach for most people.

Patients wait for months to get a procedure.

Home to the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela was for decades an economic leader in the western hemisphere. But in 1999, with the rise to power of late leader Hugo Chávez – whose left-leaning policies endeared him to the poor, but also set up an unsustainable system of state spending – Venezuela’s economy began to creep toward a crisis.