HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: On Friday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro took to state-run television to say that he had asked the United Nations for help in addressing his country’s shortages of medicine and other goods. Maduro blamed the economic war and the fall in oil prices for the current crisis that has left the country’s hospitals with less than 5 percent of the medicine required to treat patients.
For more on just how Venezuela reached this point, I’m joined via Skype from Caracas, by “Reuters” reporter Brian Ellsworth.
Brian, we’ve covered this collapsing state in several different conversations on this program. But this is an interest being development.
How bad is the lack of medical supplies? I’ve heard that there have been protests on the streets about this.
BRIAN ELLSWORTH, REUTERS REPORTER: Yes, the situation is quite severe. The pharmaceutical industry estimates that you have perhaps one in six chance of finding a given medication on the shelf, so maybe 85 percent of medications were short or just not available. This means that you could have trouble finding anything from a simple anti-inflammatory to something obviously more complicated like chemotherapy medication or Parkinson’s medication or hypertension medication.
The result is that people simply go without medication they need, and you’ll go on social media and you’ll see, there’s just a constant flood of requests from people who say, can you help me get this medication for this person. There are now groups all over the world made up of Venezuelans, who have left the country who are trying to figure out ways to get medication in. Obviously, these are things that help, but the situation is severe enough that without a major change in the way the economy functions, it probably is going to continue to be a problem.
SREENIVASAN: Is there now a black market for medications when there’s such an incredible shortage of things or has the price just skyrocketed?
ELLSWORTH: In some instances, the prices have gone up significantly and there are now a lot of medications that are simply out of the reach of what people can afford. There is always sort of trade and barter of medication. The problem simply is there isn’t — I wouldn’t say even enough medication to sustain a black market the way you would have a black market for foreign exchange or for any other number of products.
SREENIVASAN: And this is in the context of inflation that is rising in triple digit numbers this year?
ELLSWORTH: Yes. The government doesn’t publish inflation numbers anymore. The estimates that we hear is between 400 and 800 percent annually. So, even if you can find medication, the likelihood of being able — people being able to find it at a price that they can afford is every day getting less and less likely.
SREENIVASAN: What kind of responses there have been from the international community?
ELLSWORTH: People talk a lot about this, and the initial reaction at least of the government is that there is no crisis here. So, they have, while really until Friday, been — they disliked the idea of people talking about humanitarian assistance because they say there is not a need for that. Maduro is now talking about a consultation with the United Nations, the proposal was a rather brief comment on Friday and it’s not immediately evident what he actually has in mind and what the United Nations would be able to do about it.
SREENIVASAN: All right. Brian Ellsworth of “Reuters”, joining us via Skype from Caracas — thanks so much.
ELLSWORTH: Thank you.