Portugal: Venezuela NGO calls on country to help save sick mothers, children

A non-governmental organisation in Venezuela that helps children and adolescents hospitalised with chronic illnesses on Thursday called on Portugal to provide economic support to such NGOs in the country, which has a large Portuguese community, to prevent further deaths due to a lack of response from the state.

“The Portuguese government, which is very dear to Venezuelans, should see how it can help us, through the embassy, because what we are experiencing is devastating, it is multidimensional,” said Katherine Martinez, the director of Prepara Familia (PF).

Martinez was speaking to Lusa in Caracas, in the organisation’s offices, where several children and family members at risk of malnutrition were attended to, and given vitamins and medicines.

“We need countries like Portugal, which has always had a wonderful relationship with us, which has so many Portuguese people with businesses here, that we can have a greater relationship,” she said, stressing the “beautiful relationship with the Portuguese community” in Venezuela, which she said has “a heart of gold”.

It has, she explained, “been very hard” what Venezuelans have experienced in recent years. Since 2017 there has been “a record” in the Nephrology Department of the José Manuel de los Rios Children’s Hospital, where “to date 74 children have died,” she said.

“For us, these deaths are avoidable, because the state has not invested to respond and guarantee the right to life and health of these children,” Martinez said, warning that “there is no organ search programme, because it has been suspended for five years and five months.”

The NGO director explained that many women in Venezuela do not receive state food aid because “most of them come from the interior of the country” and “have been criminalised for carrying out protests.”

Meanwhile, she reported, there are children who have died “from malnutrition” – who “did not suffer from chronic diseases, but because of hunger, because by not being fed, they ended up hospitalised.

“In 2020, we will open a nutritional protection centre, a legal psychosocial unit, to attend to children in this situation, pregnant women at risk of malnutrition and breastfeeding women,” she said.

According to the director of Prepara Familia, the NGO currently serves children and women who undergo “a 12-week protocol where they receive nutritional supplements and vitamins.

“It’s free, everything, because it’s thanks to the projects of the humanitarian architecture, of the United Nations,” she stressed.

According to Martinez, “already in 2008, the situation in the hospital was complicated: women slept under the children’s cots, without chairs or beds: they put newspapers and sheets on top of them.

“There were many shortages, but since 2014 the situation has worsened with the complex humanitarian emergency that slowly began to set in in Venezuela … we could not do preventive and corrective maintenance of the X-ray equipment, we had a significant drop in medicines and family supplies, and the mothers had to go out to do the exams because they could not do them inside the hospital,” she recalled.

It was then that PF began to document what was happening, but the difficulties worsened: “In 2017 children who were in the dialysis unit, in the Nephrology Department, began to die for no apparent reason… There were bacteria and every child who came in ran that risk.”

Faced with this situation, several organisations asked for help from the Inter-American Human Rights System, which responded with “protective measures”, but “the state did not respond, did nothing” – prompting a request for an extension of the precautionary measures that today protect children in 14 hospital services.

In Venezuela, Martinez said, publicity is being given that things are improving, but in fact this is only “for a tiny sector” of the population.

“We, every day, see with pain how the situation of vulnerability of families, children and women with chronic illnesses has been increasing, because there is no response from the state,” she said.

Venezuelans, she explained, are suffering the impact of “an economic context, poor financial management, the exchange rate issue, the [low] minimum wage and a hyperinflation that prevents women from accessing a balanced diet.

“It’s dramatic, and that’s why all the organisations of the United Nations humanitarian architecture are here,” she said. “The World Food Programme is inside the country delivering bags of food through schools.”