05 Jun 2016
Venezuelan Patients Dying Amid Lack Of Medicine

People lie in filthy hospital wards with no air conditioning and no clean water as a medical crisis sweeps the country.

Senior cancer specialists at Venezuela's top oncology hospital say half of their patients are needlessly dying because they have no access to the most basic of medicines.

The doctors say rampant corruption and chaotic state organisation means they can barely treat their patients, have almost no working equipment and have no means of alleviating a medical crisis that is sweeping the country.

For the past week, Sky News has secretly filmed in three major hospitals both inside and outside the capital Caracas.

Doctors, nurses and administrative staff risked losing their jobs to show what is happening to the crumbling health service.

The picture was uniformly bleak in all the locations.

Almost no supplies of medicine or medical equipment, bodies left on hospital beds in corridors because the morgues are full and the refrigerators are broken.

Patients lie in filthy wards with no air conditioning and no clean water. There is little running water to clean clogged and filthy toilets and showers, no cleaning products for the staff and barely edible meagre quantities of poor food fed to patients irregularly.

The families of those admitted to the hospital must provide their medicine, bedding, food, water, soap and water.

A man's body lies in a grimy, dark hallway in a hospital

Without the families, the patients would receive nothing but the expertise of health staff battling to keep people alive who normally would not have life-threatening illnesses.

Despite having the largest known reserves of oil in the world and led by a socialist government founded by Hugo Chavez with a mission to alleviate poverty for the masses, Venezuela is on the brink of a financial and social collapse.

Opposition parties are trying to force through a recall vote of President Nicolas Maduro, the successor to Mr Chavez. So far he has used the courts to block the demands for new presidential elections.

A mixture of socialist price controls, rampant inflation, corruption and a chronic black market have led to food shortages across the country.

Goods designated as "essential" by the government, such as meat, eggs, milk, water, flour, shampoo and toilet rolls, simply disappear from supermarkets as the producers cannot or will not provide them at the low prices set by the government.

The black market is thriving but is simply beyond the spending capacity of the majority of the country who are paid a minimum wage that cannot keep up with inflation.

Enormous queues form outside shops when there is even the slightest hint that food will be delivered.

Sky News watched hundreds of people queue for five hours outside a supermarket before they were allowed to enter and see what was available to buy at the government set price. All they could take were two jars of mayonnaise per person.

The only meat we have seen for sale since arriving here were live chickens at a street market. They soon ran out.

Coca Cola and beer producer Polar have suspended production because they cannot get the raw materials.

Few people working in the public sector are prepared to speak out against the government, but Dr Gabriel Romero, a highly respected oncology consultant, told me he had had enough and decided to go public.

He showed me around his hospital where hundreds wait for treatment they will not receive.

We walked through wards in specialist areas where none of the equipment worked. The only CT scanner he has ever been able to use is now broken and abandoned in a corridor.

Other equipment delivered years ago remains in boxes uninstalled.

"People are dying because we cannot treat them. There is nothing I can do for them," he said.

Visibly angry and emotional, he told me: "We don't get the medicine we need and even if there was a supply they don't ask us what we want. This populist government says it is here to favour the poor, it is a complete lie.

"After spending and looting, this government has destroyed the country and it is drowning in misery and desolation.

The poorest members of society are certainly suffering the most. In Barrio San Blas, a Caracas slum the size of a city, where millions live in self-built houses and shacks, murder, crime and unemployment rates are among the highest in the world.

Elizabeth Chacon has four children. In her corrugated iron and wood home she showed me what her family will eat. It consisted of a broth of Yucca leaves and a single potato. She cannot remember when she last ate meat.

Elizabeth earns a dollar a day as a house cleaner when she can get work, which is rare.

"There is nothing we can do, we have no hope," she told me.