Nurses in Venezuela face higher risk of catching COVID-19 because of shortages of proper gear and even clean water.
Venezuelan nurse Flor Perez works a gruelling night shift at a public children’s hospital in Caracas, where the coronavirus is a constant risk. In exchange, she takes home a monthly salary that barely buys a day’s worth of groceries.
Perez, 47, says that of the eight nurses who are supposed to be on the night shift, only three consistently show up. The rest have left the country or taken other jobs to make more money.
“The day-to-day of a person who graduated from nursing school, unfortunately, it hurts sometimes, because our salary (is) between three and a half and four dollars,” said Perez in her home on the outskirts of Caracas, as she got ready for a shift at the JM de los Rios hospital.
If COVID isn’t the end of us, the economic situation will be.
Perez is one of more than 100,000 nurses in Venezuela who are struggling to make ends meet on salaries that have been decimated by rampant inflation, while also facing a heightened risk of contracting the coronavirus in a country where medical staff lack protective equipment and even running water.
Between March and the start of September, at least 26 nurses died of COVID-19, according to non-profit group Doctors United Venezuela. The nurses’ association said that at least 4,000 have emigrated since 2016 due to the economic crisis.
There have been around 55,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 444 deaths in Venezuela so far, according to government figures, a relatively low caseload compared with many of its South American neighbours. But the dire situation of its healthcare professionals is weakening its capacity to deal with the pandemic.
The information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
President Nicolas Maduro said the country takes close care of its medical personnel, thanks to donations made by Russia and China. Those donations have helped Venezuela overcome shortages induced by US sanctions meant to force him from power, the Socialist Party leader has said.
The government said criticisms of Venezuela’s hospital system are opposition fabrications meant to tarnish the government’s reputation.