Multiple Outbreaks Amidst Crisis in Venezuela


The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning on May 15, 2018 that nonessential travel to Venezuela should be avoided. Venezuela’s health care system has been crumbling as a result of a nationwide socioeconomic and political crisis that began in 2012. As a result, several large outbreaks of infectious disease have been occurring in the South American country, including measles, diphtheria and malaria. At the same time, overall infrastructure has collapsed, with shortages of food, water, electricity, medicine and medical supplies [1].


As of 2016, Latin America was declared free of measles. Despite this, in the past year, there have been over 1,000 cases of measles reported, and over 50 deaths in Venezuela [2]. The most affected age group is children between the ages of five and 15. Similarly, Venezuela had not seen a case of diphtheria for a period of 24 years. However, since 2016, there have been more than 1,602 suspected cases of diphtheria, with 142 deaths and a 14.5% case fatality rate [3].


Furthermore, malaria has also been on the rise in Venezuela, making it the country with the highest percentage of malaria cases in the world. There are currently 10 times as many cases of malaria in Venezuela as there were in 2010, with approximately 406,000 cases reported in the past year [4]. This malaria epidemic has been intensified by the country’s inability to procure insecticides, drugs, diagnostic supplies and nets.


All three outbreaks have been exacerbated by the Venezuelan government’s refusal to recognize the scale of this public health crisis [5]. It has been over two years since the Ministry of Health’s weekly epidemiology report was published, indicating a great lack of transparency. Former Minister of Health Luisana Melo called physicians’ estimates of the diphtheria death toll “totally false” [6]. In the case of malaria, which has been recognized by the country as an epidemic, there is still a severe shortage of treatment medication available and minimal efforts to remedy this issue.


However, there have been some efforts by the country to control the disease outbreaks. There is currently a National Rapid Response Plan in place to prevent the transmission of measles. The plan includes implementation of rapid response teams, epidemiological surveillance, contact tracing and training of health personnel. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has helped the country to provide more than six million MMR vaccines to Venezuelan children and adolescents. [7]. Current Minister of Health Luis Lopez announced in April that fumigation programs to combat malaria were beginning in six of 23 states [8]. Though conditions in Venezuela are dire, these are small steps in the right direction. With more support from the government, these entirely preventable diseases can be eradicated.













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