Venezuela continues to face some of the most dire political and economic crises in its history. The country’s healthcare, local-market, employment and food systems have collapsed; the situation has been compounded by political violence and hyperinflation over the past several months. In February, the World Food Program (WFP) released an assessment indicating that approximately 2.3 million Venezuelans were severely food-insecure and required emergency food assistance, while an additional 7 million were experiencing moderate food insecurity.
These crises have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s first case was confirmed on March 13, leading the government to declare a state of emergency and impose a nationwide quarantine—suspending schools, and all commercial activities except those related to basic services, food and healthcare operations. Though necessary to curb the spread, the quarantine measures further exacerbated needs, particularly among the most vulnerable and those with limited livelihood opportunities, including those who depend on the informal economy and those who engage in crossborder economic activities. Since the beginning of quarantine, more than 80,000 Venezuelans have returned to the country, including some 40,000 who returned in mid-March following the closure of the Colombian border.
The country is currently under lockdown restrictions, with almost 4,000 COVID-19 cases recorded and 33 deaths attributed to the disease. More than 500 of these cases were reported from returnees who arrived in the country between April 6 and May 21. International organizations have expressed concerns that these numbers may be significantly higher, due to the limitations of testing and reporting. As the country begins to loosen restrictions, health experts are advising caution. Venezuela’s collapsed health system—where some hospitals lack such basics as running water—will be unable to handle a significant increase in severely sick patients. The government has warned that, in the event of a new outbreak, it will take drastic and radical measures to tighten restrictions. The majority of cases are currently in Nueva Esparta, in the northeast; Miranda and Táchira, in the southwest; Bolivar, in the southeast; and the Capital District, located in the north.
In addition to COVID-19, the region is experiencing an increase in malaria cases. This situation is especially troubling in areas where indigenous communities live, in cities in the Amazon region of Brazil and Peru, and in areas along the Pacific region in Colombia. The pandemic is expected to further exacerbate the malaria outbreak in the regions, given the need of healthcare professionals and systems to focus efforts on monitoring, containing and treating COVID-19. The need to restrict movement, ration medical supplies and safeguard health professionals may prevent individuals who are suspected of having malaria to seek care in health facilities. Additionally, many areas have had to reduce the number of dedicated malaria personnel to concentrate more heavily on COVID-19. As a result, case detection activities have fallen to the wayside, and many rapid response teams and COVID-specific health areas are limited in their ability to identify and confirm suspected malaria patients.