Our Health Ministry is a revolving door


Meet Henry Ventura, the fourth Health Minister in almost two years of the Maduro administration

Lost in the news whirlpool of open letters, diplomatic summits and military exercises, there’s the news that Nicolas Maduro has named a brand new Health Minister: PSUV Falcón State MP Henry Ventura.

Until a few days ago, Ventura was the chairman of the National Assembly’s Health Committee. He admitted in a recent interview with State TV that at least 50% of medicines in the country are not available to the public, but he placed the whole blame of the problem to a “war” staged by pharmaceutical companies, drug stores, and “…the multinationals which have decreed the death of our citizens.”


Ventura won’t have it easy, as he’s the fourth Health Minister Nicolas Maduro has named in just two years. He’ll try his best to stay on the job longer than his predecessors: Isabel Irrutia (April-November 2013), Francisco Armada (November’13-September’14) and Nancy Perez (September 2014-March 2015).

At first glance, the challenge he faces is nothing less than monumental: EfectoCocuyo’s Vanessa Arenas offers some harsh data on the biggest problems. For example, a report by the NGO Red de Medicos por la Salud show that 44% of all operating rooms are currently not operational and there’s a 68% shortage of surgical instruments. The shortage of medicines is now 70% and malaria is already reaching historical highs in early 2015. Just to see the state of our public hospitals, the Caracas University Hospital has been forced to shut down operations two times in the last nine months.

But the best recent piece in order to understand the state of our healthcare system comes from abroad. Wall Street Journal’s South American correspondent Juan Forero (a friend of the blog) recently wrote an extended, front-page article about how the lack of many medical supplies is putting lives at risk. Sadly, its English version is suscription-only, but there’s a full free version in Spanish. The highlight of the riveting piece:

Of 45,000 beds in Venezuela’s public hospitals, only 16,300 are operational. Private hospitals, with another 8,000 beds, have helped overwhelmed public facilities, but they, too, are hurting. The association representing private hospitals says elective surgery at private facilities—from knee operations to gastric bypasses and other procedures that aren’t life-threatening—are down by 90%. That is because falling currency reserves are making it nearly impossible for hospitals to get the dollars needed to pay for imported medicine and medical equipment.

Venezuela needs about $1 billion annually in medical equipment imports, said Antonio Orlando, president of the Venezuelan Association of Medical Equipment. But in 2014, the cash-strapped government provided less than $200 million—a sharp drop from 2010, when the sector imported $807 million.

Last March, the Central Bank said that there was a 50% scarcity of medicines; it has since stopped publishing such data. The Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation, which represents the pharmaceutical sector, estimates that as much as 70% of all medicines are in short supply or unavailable.

Doctors and administrators at public hospitals say life-and-death operations—to unclog an aorta, for instance—have plummeted. Compounding the problem is a lack of staff. Hospital officials say up to half of medical school graduates, who earn less than $50 a month at the country’s black market rate, are fleeing the country.

At the University Hospital, a symbol of the health-care system since its opening in 1956 and the first hospital here to carry out cardiac surgery, doctors performed as many as 40 open-heart surgeries a month a decade ago. Last year, that average had fallen to about seven each month. Heart catheterizations, another common procedure at big hospitals, have fallen from 1,200 annually to about 100.

“How can we treat a patient when we can’t operate, or even give them a drug to take care of the pain?” said Dr. Ivan Machado, a veteran cardiologist at the hospital.

The human toll of the hospital’s plight is underscored by Carmen Quiñones, 51. In early December doctors at a private clinic discovered she had an abdominal aneurysm, bleeding in the lower part of the aorta, the major blood vessel that supplies blood to the body.

She was rushed to the University Hospital’s emergency room and told she needed a small tube called an aortic prosthesis to repair the rupture.

But the hospital, dry of resources, informed the family that it would be up to them to procure the necessary supplies—including the aortic prosthesis. By the next day, they had found one, which was donated by a doctor at a private hospital who knew the family.

While the prosthesis was successfully implanted, another complication arose during the operation. Doctors discovered another aneurysm, requiring a second surgery and a second prosthesis. The family failed to find another.

“I’ll operate, but what am I going to put in her?” Dr. Durand told Jhon Jairo Perez, Mrs. Quiñones’s 24-year-old son.

Without surgery, she began to worsen and by Dec. 26 was slurring words and losing consciousness. The blood was seeping from the weakened artery into her lungs, two doctors who treated her said, but the hospital didn’t have extra stocks to replace what she was losing.

“She bled to death,” said Dr. Durand. “We didn’t have a prosthesis. No blood. It was very hard to help her.”

The article is full of sad anecdotes such as this one. Kudos to Forero for highlighting the human aspect of this terrible state of affairs.

44 thoughts on “Our Health Ministry is a revolving door

  1. Yes but you failed to mention that the patient didn’t have to pay for her care. Free education and state of the art medical care are the glories of socialism. A tragic story.


    • Also free housing, according to the Constitution–that’s why Mision Vivienda says they’re going to build/give away 400m housing units this year–Oh, Glorious Revolution!


  2. And the inaffllible common denominators are, as usual:

    Lack of Education = Ignorance = > Ineptitude and CORRUPTION = Vzla’s disastrous healthcare system.

    One thing to add: Perhaps 95% of all good doctors, nurses and well-educated Medical professionals Venezuela used to have left the country a long time ago. They are everywhere in hospitals and clinics in Miami, for example. Everywhere, even my dentist and assistants are Venezuela: GONE.

    Why? Always refer to the infallible equation. Add Crime and Insecurity when needed.


    • We heard you the last time. I seems that you are telling everyone that all is lost and that anyone in opposition should flee Venezuela. Now, who does that benefit? Why the regime, of course. That gives them fewer people to complain, fewer mouths to feed, and more for them to steal. I wonder exactly who it is you are speaking for?

      If you are really speaking for yourself, since you are in Miami, living well, and have given up on Venezuela, don’t you have better ways to spend your time? OR… you are one of the Hegemony, Inc. trolls.


        • The authors of this blog, regular contributors, and other political nerds not withstanding, after a year or so, most people who flee stop caring enough to spend time on these blogs. They get involved in building their new lives, and slowly their interests drift to other things. Sure, they have friends and family remaining in Venezuela, but the sense of personal immediacy and crisis that drives people to participate starts to fade.


        • No, it doesn’t. People can take their own decisions. They don’t need a Sledge with utterly racialist, snobbish, pseudo-educated slurs to decide whether they should remain in Venezuela or leave.
          Sledge is like a Venezuelan of Italian parents who kept telling people in a Facebook account of Venezuelans in Rome about how primitive, uneducated most Venezuelans were.
          Thanks God almost all Venezuelans in the page, although many living in Rome, many with a similar background, told her what a stupid, completely unproductive attitude she had.


      • 1/ Stick to the topic, not the blogger.

        2/ No, I never wrote or implied “all is lost”. Read. I even ventured some brief sentences into the tough solutions to improving mass education, and the root reasons for not doing so, not just in Vzla but everywhere (long term/low immediate rewards)

        3/ Read 1/


        • 1/ Take Prozac. It should help to deflate your delusions of grandeur and misperceptions.
          2/ Hard to find constructive comments from you amid all your bombast and repetitive statements (boring!).
          3/ Repeat 1/


  3. “Venezuela needs about $1 billion annually in medical equipment imports, said Antonio Orlando, president of the Venezuelan Association of Medical Equipment. But in 2014, the cash-strapped government provided less than $200 million—a sharp drop from 2010, when the sector imported $807 million.”

    Here’s a side-by-side: They’re importing vital medical supplies to the tune of 200 million a YEAR (!) for hospitals, while paying Wall Street bankers about a billion dollars a MONTH on bond interest charges. Stunning. Breathtaking.


    • That’s right, although when you say paying Wall Street Bankers they are paying the owners of mutual funds who own the bonds and essentially it is the money of individuals from the middle class and yes the wealthy of the word. That is the fallacy of this myth that all this money is for “wall street bankers”. The money is about investment that creates jobs and economic growth and it is not only the rich who invest it is 401 K and retirement plans and on and on. Capitalism may not be the best system but it has been proven time and again that it is the only system that rewards individual effort. The so-called 99% in the capitalistic world are becoming more and more dependent on entitlements and somehow some believe that in some mythical magical math formula that the 1% can pay for the 99%. What is going on in Venezuela is only what is going to happen elsewhere in the world unless people take more responsibility for their own lives, work, speak out, and stand up to tyranny. This regime in Venezuela is about one thing – do anything to stay in power. That means do the minimum internationally because when you stop paying your international obligations you become a rogue nation and then regimes are toppled. So these greedy corrupt Boligarchs in Venezuela from Maduro on down with his corrupt ruthless henchmen will do whatever it takes to keep their pathetic jobs and do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to help their people, they will just drone on for hours on TV shouting at the US and anything else they can think to blame.. Of course there is a whole other gang that is standing in the wings to topple Maduro and then take their turn raping their own country. Recent disclosures of the billions that have been syphoned off from PDVSA (Andorra – Spain) is only the tip of the iceberg. You are right, those that can leave will and the country will be left with an unskilled, uneducated, poor masses who will owe their pathetic existence to these criminals, and even then they will starve and die from lack of medical treatment. And even if democracy were to prevail at some time in the future, the country is ruined for a least a generation. The depth of depravity that power will cause is nothing short of incredible, that one human being can be so callous and thoughtless towards their fellow countrymen not only simply another human beings. Any discussion of the pros and cons of their brand of criminal enterprise (this is not socialism) is just what they want – it gives it some sort of air of legitimacy when in fact these people should simply be dead for their crimes against humanity. They do not deserve a debate – their victims deserve justice!! But as long as they have oil their gutless neighbors will smile and join in the condemnation of the US and capitalism when in fact the only country that is buying the oil from Venezuela for full price is the US – THAT is what you call irony, or they always bite the hand that feeds them. Blame it on anything but their own ignorance and greed and the US is always an easy target to blame everything on. When you look at them smiling and defiant on their bought and paid for lap dog media you want to vomit. I wholeheartedly support blogs and public discourse like this but let’s not give it a legitimacy they do not deserve in any way shape or form. Lay the blame squarely where it is deserved – MADURO and his criminal enterprise.


      • Only one clarification–CHAVEZ, MADURO, the CASTROS, and their criminal enterprise. And,for reasons you so succinctly put, “dialogue” with such rogues, pariahs, and their supporters is impossible.


      • I enjoyed reading your interesting response. Further to my point, what is truly ironic here is that the Chavista’s are religiously paying interest on their bond debt, yet ignoring what should be obvious. It is almost next to impossible that any/few international lending institution would even consider providing any future loans to this government. It’s complete insanity, happening right before our eyes…


  4. You can have high quality and affordable public health care for all. And cheaper than private healthcare.

    But not if you simultaneously put the whole insanity of foreign exchange controls for decades, destroy all the productive economy but the oil sector (and that too). And then watch oil go down.

    Good public services should be right. But to make something an actual real right and not just theorical, that implies having an actual economy you can tax to pay for them. Not just a temporary boom in government income; an actual productive country that can pay for its own needs month after month after year after year.

    Its like somebody in the now extremely depressing conversation “around” (never about, the right just want to attack Podemos and Podemos just wants to look elsewhere) Venezuela here in Spain , telling how we had to take into account that “before the revolution” the # of people that got a pension was so low , but now “near 3 million” do it.

    Yea, great. Only they are getting it in monopoly paper that converts to less than a few dozen € per month, that they may choose to employ in paying for stuff that is actually prized at international prices or stuff that is not but is also not there. So great achievement – from not having a pension to having a useless one. Helluva difference


  5. Helpful tip: If you google the WSJ article title: “Venezuelans Suffer Amid Crumbling Health System”, it will pull up a direct link to the WSJ that bypasses the subscription pay wall.

    Should be the top search result.


  6. Two years ago the head of the Allende Barrio Adentro Unit at Chuao , a lady who used to work in a Ministry and then discovered that all along she was a Chavista , fell ill . Since she headed this ‘model’ fully equipped medical organization manned by Cuban medics one would have thought that she would have gotten treated at the medical unit she headed . No such thing, she went to a nearby private clinic , paid a private specialist to see her , took her treatment at the clinic and didnt tell a thing to the cuban medics who surrounded her . Now why would she do a thing like that , when the barrio adentro medical attention was free and at the private clinic she had to pay for being treated. ?? Maybe she mistrusted her own medics ??, Strange that this might happen in socialism.!!

    The top of the barrio adentro system is what used to be known as the Hospital Militar , a lady I know sought their medical attention over a medical problem she had been experiencing , they told her to bring some specific X rays , but they warned her , you must get them at a private Clinic , the ones taken by the cuban medics are worthless . Funny that she should have been told that .

    A relative of mine was a phisician at a barrio working fot he govt system , two blocks from where she worked there was a fully equipped air conditioned barrio adentro clinic manned by cuban medics . The govt unit was always full of queing mothers and their children and other sick people , not so the neighboring barrio adentro unit . Sometimes a mother who had taken her child to the Barrio Adentro clinic would go to the old govt place to check on the medical recipes they gave for her child , good thing they did because they would often issue adult size recipes for their children , Sometimes someone would fall into convulsions and the neighboring unit would rush the patient all ready in critical condition to the state unit where my relative worked so that if he died they would not be blamed for his death. Luckly the young fellow was saved , but lots of similar incidents ot medical malpractice became known to the venezuelan doctors working in their own half runied facilities . My relative once documented one such incident in full detail and sent it to the medical authorities to see what would happen . As you might guess nothing happened.

    Another time a family friend of poor means went to her barrio adentro unit to get an infected foot attended , they told her to soak it in tea water , my relative inmmediately knew the family friend needed an inmmediate antibiotic shot or the friend would develop gangrene and die.

    Free socialist health care is a great thing to have . Nowadays with all kinds of medical products missing because they cant be imported for lack of foreign currency as it must be used to pay our foreign creditors .
    The health situation is a bit less rosy . Still we must thank our socialist dear departed leader for the free health service we all have access to ( well not quite free because you must buy and bring the missing medical products with your own money ) .


    • “Another time a family friend of poor means went to her barrio adentro unit to get an infected foot attended , they told her to soak it in tea water…….”

      I had this EXACT same situation, and luckily did exactly the opposite of what Barrio Adentro recommended.


  7. Oh another fun incident of some 4 years ago , a close relative became friends with a Cuban Lady doctor who had been sent to Venezuela because her husband also a medic was ill with a condition which coulndt be treated in Cuba but could be treated in Venezuela . The second day after she arrived she went to a regular Venezuelan super market and when she saw what was inside she burst into tears , she coulndt believe the abundance of things , finding products that she had read about but had never seen !! She told my relative that because of her upbringing she always would support Castro but that it had been a shock to her to find how well people lived in Venezuela .!! Now its us who are crying at the ruin that our country has become !!


  8. Health Care system reform is clearly one tough nut to crack. At least here in the USA, so far, they can. And when Canada or European nations try to, and give away free Health Care, the costs are huge, notably in the corresponding astronomical taxes on private industry.

    In Vzla, of course, the system is beyond broken. You don’t even have the medicines or beds available, like in Africa.. So we’re back at the level of first repairing the private economy to functional levels, importing the medicines and equipment, build hospitals, and train doctors/nurse all over again, since they all fled the country. And that’s after you contain the Crime / personal security issues..

    So it’s gonna take forever to improve, infrastructure and big, long term investments like Health Care yield low immediate political rewards, so they often come last.


  9. Fortunately, we can count on our educated Elie to fix healthcare in Vzla real soon:

    “Si nos tocará algún día tomar el fusil lo tomaríamos y seria el final del imperio estadounidense en la historia. Pero no, nosotros lo que queremos tomar el lápiz, el cuaderno, el libro para estudiar y formar; lo que queremos tomar es el taladro para producir petróleo; lo que queremos tomar es con nuestras manos a nuestros hijos y darles un beso, porque Venezuela tiene derecho a la paz, a la vida, al amor y a la libertad”.

    Y agregó: “Nosotros tenemos que mantener el centro de nuestra lucha y en ello hay que actuar con un gran cerebro para pensar con sabiduría”.

    Kids are being forced to read this (gotta love the last pearl here..) and write a letter to the Obama Empire, or no school. Freaking amazing..


  10. From people who knew Maduro as a teen ager , including some of his teachers and high school mates they never cease to be amazed that such a lazy bones could have risen to president. He was notorious for missing classes, loafing arround , never doing any work . This contrasted with his sisters ( one of which a physician I believe) who were hard working and diligent . He had the stamina of a sleeping posum , the teachers even doubt that he ever got to recieve a high school diploma , Their impression is that he left school never finishing his studies . This is borne out by the absolute official silence surrounding any detail concerning Maduros studies and his work records at the Metro where he is constantly referred to as missing work and asking for special medical and other leaves . How could Chavez have named such a man his succesor ?? His speech is always boorish , bombastic full of errors , close to clownish . as if he were trying to inmitate the dead chavez but with miserable ineptitude !!


    • “How could Chavez have named such a man his succesor ??”

      If you find the photo of Maduro as an early-twenty-something in Cuba (where he met Cilia), you should have your answer. Maduro was not chosen by Chávez.


  11. Half of the population spends little or nothing on health care, while 5 percent of the population spends almost half of the total amount.
    This statistic from the US (http://archive.ahrq.gov/research/findings/factsheets/costs/expriach/index.html) suggests that at any one time 5% of a country’s population is gravely ill such that if the do not get treatment, they will likely die in a matter of months. So in Venezuela 5% of 30,000,000 = 1,500,000 is likely wasting away right now, in despair and without access to painkillers, like Neolithic humans.

    Where’s the outrage inside Venezuela? Where’s the outrage in the OAS?

    In a great feast presided by the Conde Ugolino della Chavezdesca Venezuelans joyfully bite off their own succulent flesh in great mouthfulls to assuage their hunger, to the strident banality of a salsa accompaniment.


    • There is a paretto parameter guiding the number of the ill population which in the US consumes most of the health care costs , a small percentage of people using the health care system are responsible for a large portion of the costs , they are usually people who are careless about taking care of them selves and in time through their procrastination and self neglect become chronically ill . If their illnesses could be attended to methodically before they became chronic the costs might go down considerably . This is one fact mentioned by Atul Gwande in one of his articles .

      The route towards lowering health care costs goes through a constant monitoring of peoples health by primary care doctors , so that the patients dont develop the chronic illnesses that cost so much to treat. .

      In Venezuela one factor I suspect goes a long way towards making the health situation worse is that violent crime is so much more prevalent than elsewhere and people who use cars and specially motorcycles are particularly careless when driving. !!


  12. Wall Street Journal’s South American correspondent Juan Forero (a friend of the blog) recently wrote an extended, front-page article about how the lack of many medical supplies is putting lives at risk. Sadly, its English version is subscription-only.

    There is a way to get around the WSJ paywall. Find the article in Google. I used a Google link to access the complete article in a comment I made at the CC article The U.S. Military’s Real Worry about Venezuela: That We’ll Stop Giving Oil Away to Cuba.


  13. OT: A Brazilian entrepreneur named Aldo Vendramin, owner of a construction company called Consilux, which operates in Venezuela, disclosed what they used to do to actually get paid by the Chávez regime when the Venezuelan money started getting short.

    I translated the money quote:

    “To operate in Venezuela is not simple. We are in Venezuela since 2006 building low-income housing, but again, to operate there is not simple. We had a lot of problems with cashflow, because payments were delayed, so we hired the consultancy of the Brazilian ex-minister [José Dirceu]. José Dirceu got us close to Chávez. He was very close to Venezuelan ministers and even to Chávez himself. He knows everyone, and we were in a difficult situation because of the lack of payments. Sometimes, the Venezuelan government would take a very long time to survey the construction progress and release the money. José Dirceu was very efficient. He took me to talk with Chávez three times, and after that, the payments started being released faster. Payments were still delayed, but not like before. The Venezuelan government would take 6 or 8 months to pay us, but after the ex-minister’s intervention, it has fallen to to two or three months.”

    This is in all major Brazilian newspapers today.



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