It’s a tweet that ultimately fell on deaf ears: “#ServicioPublico Infalgan solution of 10 Mg for injection is needed for Vanessa Chacón.” S ent from San Rafael del Piñal, a small town in Venezuela near the border with Colombia, the tweet was sent on behalf of Chacón, 22, who needed the medicine to survive a severe coronary condition. Unfortunately, it’s simply not available there — and isn’t likely to be anytime soon. “My niece is very sick. We haven’t been able to locate the drug in pharmacies or in hospitals,” says Nelson Jaimes, who’s Chacón’s uncle and, coincidentally, a pharmacist. “We who are inside the pharma business can’t locate the products. What can a regular citizen expect to find?”
In Venezuela, several hundred tweets like this go out every day under the hashtag “#ServicioPublico,” meaning “public service.” But few cries for help are answered, and the country is facing a critical shortage of basic medical supplies. The crisis is only getting worse. A crumbling economy and lack of access to foreign currency (worsened by the recent drop in oil prices) means domestic distributors cannot pay their suppliers. That, in turn, has led international medical suppliers to cut shipments and hold back on maintenance of Venezuela’s health care infrastructure. B ills have piled up to the tune of some $245 million — and that doesn’t include money owed to drug companies, maintenance firms or other health careproviders.
The consequences are being felt across a broad swath of society. Up to 15 percent of the country’s cancer patients are dying due to a lack of radiotherapy treatment, the Venezuelan Society of Oncology and Oncological Radiotherapy has warned. The situation has become so dire that some professionals who used to work with pharma companies say they’ve cut their relationships because there’s just no medicine for the businesses to supply. More