"In the last few years, the Venezuelan government has sought to suppress data on the country’s epidemiological situation, in an apparent attempt to hide the extent of the health crisis… The government has also retaliated against physicians who have publicly expressed concern about the crisis or attempted to report data on it," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a press release.
The report on Venezuela was published after a Human Rights Watch team visited the border between Venezuela and Colombia, which has been suffering from a mass influx of Venezuelans fleeing from the political and economic crisis in their country.
"Venezuela's public health system has collapsed, putting at risk the lives of countless Venezuelans. The combination of a failing health system and widespread food shortages has produced a humanitarian catastrophe, and it will only get worse if it's not addressed urgently," Shannon Doocy, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who traveled to the border as part of the watchdog's team, was quoted as saying by HRW.
Statistics provided by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) revealed that a total of 5,500 cases of measles, which can be prevented through vaccination, have been confirmed in Venezuela since June 2017, while between 2008 and 2015, only one case was registered. At the same time, 1,200 cases of diphtheria were recorded between 2016 and 2018, marking another striking contrast to previous nine years, when not a single person in Venezuela was reported to have contracted the disease.
The watchdog also said that the number of confirmed malaria cases had surged more than tenfold between 2009 and 2017. The tuberculosis incidence rate reached its highest level in four decades last year.
Moreover, nearly 90 per cent of almost 80,000 HIV-positive Venezuelans officially registered to get treatment were not receiving it, the watchdog said.
The Venezuelan Health Ministry's statistics demonstrated that in 2016 maternal and infant mortality leaped by 65 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively, in just one year.
The situation is exacerbated by food shortages and malnutrition, with around 80 per cent of Venezuelan households suffering from food insecurity, according to a nationwide survey, cited by the watchdog.
For years, Venezuela has been living in a state of a political and economic crisis, which was worsened by a decline in oil prices and US sanctions. Millions of Venezuelans have been seeking refuge, mostly in neighbouring Latin American countries. According to UN estimates, a total of 3 million people have left Venezuela, with around 2.4 million of them residing across Latin America and the Caribbean, including more than 1 million in Colombia.