2018-08-08 10:31:59 UTC
Hardly anybody likes hospital food but in Venezuela, it's so awful --
monotonous, starchy diets cooked in filthy conditions, and newborns fed
intravenous solution for lack of baby formula -- that experts call it an
actual health risk.
Take Carla Lopez, 40, who has been hospitalized for three months to treat
open wounds on her foot as a result of diabetes.
Lopez should go easy on pasta and rice -- but that's all she gets.
"I eat whatever they give me," Lopez said as she waves away flies buzzing
over a plate of rice and lentils at University Hospital in Caracas. It is
pretty flavorless stuff as the hospital is out of salt.
An excess of starch causes her blood sugar levels to shoot up.
Even if she were out of the hospital, she could not afford, say, a kilo (2.2
pounds) of chicken, which costs 1.5 times her monthly salary in this
oil-rich but economically ravaged country saddled with runaway inflation.
Lopez says that for breakfast, she gets a kind of cornmeal patty known here
as an arepa, and for lunch, it's either pasta or lentils with rice.
"In the evening, they serve you another arepa -- a small, skimpy one," said
Back in better times, this hospital used to have different cooks for
different medical problems, said nutritionist Gladys Abreu.
Now, everybody gets the same fare, and not much of it: 40 grams of rice and
25 grams of legumes.
"That is hardly enough for a small child," said one staffer in the hospital
Another hospital employee who asked not to be named complained that garbage
piles up at the facility, an imposing 11-story building that is 60 years
Indeed, a nearby trash bin overflows with detritus.
The National Hospital Survey, published in March by the
opposition-controlled National Assembly and by an NGO called Doctors for
Health, said 96 percent of Venezuela's hospitals fail to feed their patients
adequately, or do not feed them at all.
The poll covered 104 state-run hospitals and 33 private ones.
- Intravenous solution as milk -
At the Concepcion Palacios maternity clinic, also in Caracas, doctors
stopped providing formula for newborns because there was no money for it.
Parents can provide their own, but one mother, Yereercis Olivar, who just
gave birth to her second child, cannot afford formula.
She could not nurse the baby, either, because they were separated to protect
the child from the chicken pox that Olivar came down with while pregnant. It
has left her skin covered in blisters.
Olivar was desperate, so she started trying to extract milk from her breasts
with a syringe.
It took three days for that excruciating method to kick in and provide milk.
During that time, the baby lived "only on serum" -- the kind used in
intravenous solutions to keep adults hydrated. It was fed to the child from
a baby bottle.
Baby formula, like so many basic goods in Venezuela, is available only on
the black market and a can of it costs around 50 million bolivars, or $15.
That is nine times the average monthly salary.
The hospital survey said 66 percent of Venezuela's maternity wards have no
formula to give to babies.
The decline into hellish health care conditions has been swift in recent
years, said Olivar, whose first child was born at the same hospital in 2016.
It was better back then: she could not nurse her child, but there was baby
Now, "there are cockroaches in the area where they prepare the baby
bottles," said Silvia Bolivar, a nurse with 25 years on the job.
From holes in the walls and ceiling, water leaks and rodents scamper, she
The health ministry ignored a request from AFP for comment on this story.
- Patients going hungry -
On the sixth floor where she is being treated, Olivar says she has heard
nurses protesting for the past six weeks to demand better pay and working
Posters on the wall say nurses also want better food for sick people.
President Nicolas Maduro said the crisis in Venezuela's hospitals has been
aggravated by US sanctions against his government.
He says this punishment prevents the country from buying medical equipment
and medicines, 80 percent of which are in short supply, according to labor
"It is hard when patients come to us, trembling and on the verge of
fainting, to say they are hungry," said nurse Bolivar.
At the maternity clinic, the baby bottles smell bad. There is no soap to
wash them and the sterilization machine is broken.
Dark mold covers containers of rice and pasta that is fed to mothers.
Both there and at the University Hospital, the floors and bathrooms are
dirty. There is no disinfectant. Cleaning is done with water and rags.
Lopez, the lady with complications from diabetes, does not know how much
longer she must remain in her decrepit hospital room, which is furnished
with broken chairs. Her foot is not getting any better.
But it's not all gloom: her hospital roommate gave her a bouquet of
sunflowers to brighten things up.