Over a five-month span, The New York Times exposed the harrowing conditions in which babies and children barely subsist in 21 public hospitals across 17 states in Venezuela. Since the country’s economy began to collapse in 2014, emergency rooms have seen an alarming increase in the number of youths suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration.
The Times painted a shocking portrait of life in present-day Venezuela, especially for the poor. Dying infants are turned away from hospitals — 63 percent of which operate without baby formula — because they are filled to capacity. Parents join street gangs in an effort to secure basic necessities like food, and resort to scouring restaurant trash bins for scraps. Little babies die in doctors’ arms upon arrival and mothers go days without eating, shrinking to the size of children.
Although Venezuela contains the largest supply of oil reserves in the world (topping Saudi Arabia in the last decade), when oil prices began to drop swiftly in 2014, money evaporated and food prices soared. As reported by the Times, economists contend that years of economic mismanagement have led to the beleaguered country’s humanitarian crisis.
But the government in Caracas doesn’t want to take responsibility. While president Nicolás Maduro has acknowledged the hunger crisis, he continues to reject international aid and assigns blame to countries like the United States that he believes are thwarting Venezuela’s recovery through economic means.
The government has not published any epidemiological health bulletins, which would reveal the link between a lack of basic resources and infant morality, over the last two years. According to the Times, hospitals pressure doctors to forgo registering infant deaths related to malnourishment.
The Ministry of Health, however, released a report in 2015 stating the mortality rate for children under age 4 had spiked from 0.02 percent in 2012 to over 2.0 percent — a hundredfold increase — and the maternal mortality rate grew nearly fivefold. This past April, the Ministry defied the Venezuelan government by publishing a shocking statistic on their official website: 11,446 children under the age of 1 died in 2016, a 30 percent increase from the previous year. The figure was immediately scrubbed from the site, the health minister was fired and the military has been tasked with vetting health bulletins going forward.
A Venezuelan congressman told the Times: “We have a people who are dying of hunger. [The food crisis] is a humanitarian emergency that all Venezuelans are living.”