Medicine Shortages Leave Venezuelans Desperate


Venezuela produces negligible amounts of medicines, and the chronic shortages can be traced mainly to policies the government put in place to control international currency exchanges. To buy medicines from abroad, pharmacies and individuals must be approved by the government, and only rarely is permission given.

The Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation reports that more than 85 percent of basic medicines are impossible or difficult to find. Pharmacy shelves are bare, and public hospitals turn patients away for lack of supplies.

In Petare, – lines of eager patients form early each morning along the “Alley of the Witches”, a street lined with spiritual clinics where mediums channeling spirits of the courts of Maria Lionza tend to the sick.

Generations of Venezuelans have turned to the cult of María Lionza for it’s healing power, however religious leaders say never before have they experienced a boom like they have since the crisis began. They say their patients are primarily working class people turned away from public hospitals, who do not have the financial resources to travel outside of the country for medical attention.

A steady stream of followers arrive daily at the riverside high altar to María Lionza at Sorte mountain, in Yaracuy state, in the Venezuelan interior. Some come crawling on their knees; others like Oseas Ríos, a patient with kidney failure who had gone 15 days without his medicine because of shortages, are too weak to walk on their own must be supported by family members.

The government of Venezuela denies that the healthcare crisis exists, and has repeatedly refused offers of international humanitarian aid. They refuse to make epidemiological reports available to the public, and allow gangs of armed government loyalists  to occupy public hospitals, where they threaten and intimidate doctors, patients, and local journalists that speak out about critical hospital conditions.

With the government’s refusal to acknowledge the crisis, the Venezuelan health care crisis will most likely continue. Leaders of the cult of María Lionza say their religion is not political, but that it will continue to help all the patients that come to them searching for healing.