“Never in my life had I seen so many hungry children.”
As Venezuela collapses, stories have leaked out about the hunger in the country. But the one thing the socialist government has guarded the most are the malnutrition deaths, especially children. We all know it’s happening, but the details remain dark.
The New York Times investigated the effects of Venezuela’s collapse on children and it’s heartbreaking. It will make you cry, but the world needs to know this is going on. Children with severe malnutrition overwhelm emergency rooms across the nation since there is hardly any food.
So Many Hungry Children
From The New York Times:
“Children are arriving with very precarious conditions of malnutrition,” said Dr. Huníades Urbina Medina, the president of the Venezuelan Society of Childcare and Pediatrics. He added that doctors were even seeing the kind of extreme malnutrition often found in refugee camps — cases that were highly unusual in oil-rich Venezuela before its economy fell to pieces.
For many low-income families, the crisis has completely redrawn the social landscape. Parents like Kenyerber’s mother go days without eating, shriveling to the weight of children themselves. Women line up at sterilization clinics to avoid having children they can’t feed. Young boys leave home and join street gangs to scavenge for scraps, their bodies bearing the scars of knife fights with competitors. Crowds of adults storm Dumpsters after restaurants close. Babies die because it is hard to find or afford infant formula, even in emergency rooms.
“Sometimes they die in your arms just from dehydration,” Dr. Milagros Hernández said in the emergency room of a children’s hospital in the northern city of Barquisimeto, noting that the hospital had started seeing an increase in malnourished patients at the end of 2016.
“But in 2017 the increase in malnourished patients has been terrible,” she added. “Children arrive with the same weight and height of a newborn.”
Before the economic collapse, doctors saw cases of malnutrition in children due to “neglect or abuse by parents.” The collapse began in 2015 and cases of malnutrition from no food began to rise higher and higher. Dr. Ingrid Soto de Sanabria, the chief of nutrition, growth, and development development at a children’s hospital in Barquisimeto, told the Times that the cases doctors have witnessed are directly caused by the economic collapse.
The Times wrote that the government will go to great lengths to hide the devastating reports on children’s health (emphasis mine):
The Venezuelan government has tried to cover up the extent of the crisis by enforcing a near-total blackout of health statistics, and by creating a culture in which doctors are often afraid to register cases and deaths that may be associated with the government’s failures.
But the statistics that have come out are staggering. In the Ministry of Health’s 2015 annual report, the mortality rate for children under 4 weeks old had increased a hundredfold, from 0.02 percent in 2012 to just over 2 percent. Maternal mortality had increased nearly fivefold in the same period.
For almost two years, the government did not publish a single epidemiological bulletin tracking statistics like infant mortality. Then in April of this year, a link suddenly appeared on the Health Ministry’s official website, leading to the unpublished bulletins. They showed that 11,446 children under the age of 1 had died in 2016 — a 30 percent increase in one year — as the economic crisis accelerated.
The new findings made national and international headlines before the government declared that the website had been hacked, and the reports were swiftly removed. The health minister was fired and the military was put in charge of monitoring the bulletins. No reports have been released since.
Despite the culture that has doctors scared to report cases, the doctors have tried to keep count:
But doctors interviewed by The Times at nine of the 21 public hospitals said that they had kept at least some count. They encountered nearly 2,800 cases of child malnutrition in the last year alone, with starving children regularly brought to emergency rooms. Nearly 400 of the children died, the doctors said.
“Never in my life had I seen so many hungry children,” said Dr. Livia Machado, a pediatrician who gives free consultations at her private practice to children who had been hospitalized at Dr. Domingo Luciani Hospital in the capital, Caracas.
To make matters worse, hospitals lack the basic supplies like formula needed for babies . Doctors have had to turn people away because they simply do not have the supplies to help the children. The hospitals don’t even have supplies like soap, syringes, or diapers for babies and children. Sometimes nurses send the parents to pharmacies or even the black market to find these supplies.
The lack of food and formula have caused parents to do whatever they can to feed their child. Dr. Milagros Hernández encountered an 18-day-old baby who received “anise tea, cow’s milk and sometimes breastfed by a neighbor.” The baby, Esteban Granadillo, weighted only 4 pounds, 10 ounces:
Esteban’s mother was single, disabled and unable to breast-feed him, his great-aunt said. In desperation, relatives had asked a neighbor with a young child to step in and breast-feed. The family also fed him bottles of cow’s milk, or chamomile water and anise tea, to fill his stomach.
“We could not find formula anywhere,” said Ms. Peraza, the great-aunt, acknowledging that she knew the food could hurt the baby. “Yes, it was bad, but I tell you — if we had not done it, this baby would have died.”
Ms. Peraza stayed at the hospital next to Esteban’s incubator for days, stroking his stomach through the openings and whispering softly to him. He spent weeks in and out of the hospital — and died on Oct. 8.
Older Kids Choose the Streets Over the Home
Before the collapse, malnutrition occurred mainly due to neglect or abuse by the parents. That stat also applied to homeless children. But now since the collapse, many of the homeless children have chosen to run away and live on the streets because it’s easier to eat:
Three months ago, Yail Fonseca, 13, said he left his home in Los Valles del Tuy to search for food in Caracas.
“I left my home because things are hard,” he said. “We weren’t eating well.”
He says he eats better as a homeless person on his own in the capital than at home with his family on the outskirts of the city. He sleeps under an overhang at an outdoor skate park with a group of other homeless adults and children, waking up at 6 a.m. to search through garbage for food or beg for handouts from local restaurants.
Knowing the hardships, some women have opted to sterilize themselves to prevent pregnancies:
The hospital says it has sterilized more than 300 women through this program. On that Saturday, all 21 of the women, who ranged from 25 to 32 years old, said they already had children and wanted to be sterilized because the economic crisis had made it too difficult to raise children. Each feared becoming pregnant again, citing dire shortages of essential supplies like diapers, formulas, milk and medicine.
The crisis has also led to widespread shortages of birth-control pills and condoms. Many of the mothers at the sterilization event said that their most recent pregnancies had been unplanned and unwanted, but that they did not have access to birth control.
Hair stylist Eddy Farías underwent the operation because her income could barely feed and take care of the five children she already has. She described the process as “a war just to survive day to day.”
Sacrifice for the Children
María Carolina Merchán now weighs 66 pounds because she has chosen to skip her meals in order to feed her four surviving children. But even then her “family has gone as long as five days at a time without consuming anything besides water.”
Her 6-year-old daughter Marianyerlis is severely malnourished as well, weighing between 20 and 29 pounds. The weight fluctuates depending on what food she has had.
The family lives in a house with other relatives, but it doesn’t have have running water or indoor plumbing. The electricity barely works. But any income they have goes to food they can find. The only food inside the house at the time of the report was “a bag of salt, and one lime.”
Food as a Weapon
The socialists in charge have chosen to use food as a weapon to keep them in power:
The Venezuelan government has used food to keep the Socialists in power, critics say. Before recent elections, people living in government housing projects said they were visited by representatives of their local Socialist community councils — the government-aligned groups that organize the delivery of boxes of cheap food — and threatened with being cut off if they did not vote for the government.
Susana Raffalli, a specialist on food emergencies, said that if the government accepts help that is offered then “they accept that there is a humanitarian crisis here, and officially recognize that their population is vulnerable.”
But this part is most powerful: They accept help then they accept “just how much their policies failed them.”
Since the socialists in power cannot swallow their pride or admit failure then the people suffer. They will continue to suffer until those in charge shed their ambitions and pride. Absolute power corrupts.DONATE
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