By Jesus Barreto A
Additional reporting by Carlos Camacho.
The year 2020 has presented difficult challenges for HIV patients in Venezuela.
The Maduro regime has stopped reporting AIDS deaths and other numbers for more than a year now. Currently, all efforts to contain the disease in Venezuela are on donations from multilateral agencies and national and international nonprofit organizations, meaning the regime is not doing anything but distribute some donated medications. And some activists even say denying meds to HIV/AIDS patients is a “systematic policy,” tantamount to genocide.
The combination of all these factors has further affected access to medicines and quality of care for the 110,000 people diagnosed in Venezuela, according to the United Nations AIDS Programme (UNAIDS). Patients say the pandemic made them feel as if they were invisible.
“The pandemic came to make us more vulnerable. Or to show us how vulnerable and helpless HIV-positive people are in Venezuela. The first 45 days were terrible. Is like we did not exist. At first, we did not know if the centers where they deliver the treatments would work because our treatment cannot stop. Then schedules went out of control, and to top it all off, the gasoline crisis hit. Thank God, it occurred to them (Maduro regime) to deliver a full quarter (three months worth) of medicine,” said Alex Jimenez, who tested positive for HIV in 2015.
About 68% of people diagnosed with HIV in the country did not receive antiretroviral treatment in state pharmacies in 2019, according to the civil association Citizen Action Against AIDS (Accsi). For the NGO, which handles the data in the latest report of UNAIDS, the Venezuelan state not only fails to comply with a health policy by not ensuring the supply of drugs but also shows a delay in addressing the cases, which for many is fatal.
By law, the government of Venezuela has to take care of patients with AIDS, HIV, and other catastrophic diseases. If the patient does not obtain meds from the regime, the black market is the only option.
The shortage of medicines is associated with what seems to be a systematic policy, as Accsi recalled that since 2016, the government of Nicolas Maduro does not allocate funds for the purchase of antiretroviral drugs.
These compounds inhibit the development of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if applied in time. In that sense, they are the only therapy recommended by doctors because they allow a higher degree of survival and quality of life.
“Around 75,000 people did not receive antiretroviral treatment, which means that Venezuela got left behind in the global effort to end AIDS. Since 2016, the Venezuelan government has not acquired antiretroviral drugs for people with HIV,” the organization stressed on World AIDS Day.
If it were not for international cooperation, deaths from AIDS, the terminal phase of HIV, would be numerous, although failures in the registration of mortality, the keeping of a record of who dies from what is yet another dereliction of duty by the health authorities. In the World AIDS Report 2020, the Maduro regime did not provide information on deaths associated with AIDS.
“We live thanks to international organizations. For a matter of legality, their distribution gets channeled through the government, but they are only distributors. There are not even prevention campaigns. The disease continues like a stigma, but there are women and children affected. If the state were not only dedicated to delivering medicines that it receives by donation, something else would be,” reflected Erick Muñoz, an HIV-positive patient since 2013.
More than 40% of the people have managed to maintain their treatment in Venezuela thanks to the humanitarian response. According to figures reported by national authorities to OnuSida, only 1% of people living with HIV who started preventive treatment for tuberculosis infection, which is one of the so-called opportunistic diseases most common in HIV-positive patients.
Organizations like Accion Solidaria, Red de Gente Positiva, Fundacion MAVID, Azul Positivo, among many others, which have woven a strong network of support, provided the information in this article.