Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Tuberculosis Outbreaks Worry Venezuelan Doctors

Jessica Scheering comments
| World

As the crippling effects of socialism continue to hammer Venezuela, a sharp rise in cases of tuberculosis has many Venezuelan doctors concerned. Since the beginning of 2016, 120 cases have presented themselves at one of the country’s largest outpatient clinics in the state of Zulia, Urban Clinic Phase III. 

According to a report from LaVerdad.com, 120 patients have been registered compared to 72 patients in 2015 and 118 cases in 2014 in this state, this year alone. Pulmonologist Maricela Vivas says she is “worried that she is handling so many cases, and that the most outbreaks are in this part of the country. Poor nutrition is to blame and it will only get worse”. The church jurisdiction Ildefonso Vazquez, which sits just northwest of the city of Maracaibo on the mouth of the Lake of Maracaibo, is the most affected area in the state. Elarsenal.net reports that last year a minimum of 6,000 people perished from the disease alone in the country. 

Tuberculosis is not an uncommon disease in South America. Reports of 51 cases in Colombia this year, versus 7 last year, among indigenous tribes have caused alarm within the health community. Bolivia had the second highest reported number of cases in the Americas after Haiti in 2014, but since then has made strides to prevent the disease from spreading further—even reporting a decline of infection. 

Urban Clinic Phase III receives 3 to 5 patients a day and at least 3 patients discontinue treatment on a monthly basis due to lack of funds for transport, food, or they claim to feel better. Dr. Vivas revealed that she has seen some of her patients in the food lines that plague the country. She also notes that they cannot work while they have tested positive for TB but due to a severe shortage on commodities they must go out and stand in line for these instead of rest. So far 61 of these patients are between the ages of 20 and 58 years old, and that 90% of these are from the Wayuu Native American tribe. 

Further south in the state of Zulia, residing pulmonologist Dominca Isso of the General Hospital of Santa Barbara has received 40 cases in 2016, 12 more cases than what she saw in 2015. She says “half her patients leave treatment and that TB is more prevalent when poor nutrition is present”. She noted that in May of this year, there was a 70% increase of infection due to lack of medicine that is distributed by the Ministry of Health, which they claim is due to not having enough vehicles for distribute the medicine. Many of the social workers are having to use public transit to get to the the homes of the infected. 

There are 26 laboratories that are equipped to handle the diagnosis of TB however only 2 are currently working, one of which does not operate consistently. Of 26 laboratories that are dedicated to helping those who could be sick or are diagnosed, 17 have pulmonologists, 5 have general doctors, and 4 are run by nurses. According to Monica Acevedo, regional coordinator of the Tuberculosis Program, the results of the tests done to diagnose used to take 30 minutes and now take weeks. She also expressed that “those that are taking antibiotics could become resistant or the disease could mutate due to the patient’s abandonment of treatment”. 

The regional secretary of health urges those specialists to work with communities, local politicians, etc, to solve the vehicle problem by simply “asking for help”.

Author

Jessica Scheering

Jess is a native Venezuelan who loves good theology, arepas, chicken pot pie, and the Intermountain West.