Malaria Cases are Increasing in Venezuela

In just four months, Richard Mendez felt twice “unbearable cold and muscle pain.” He also had a fever, headache and vomiting. The first time he doubted what he was suffering; but without being a doctor, and because of what I heard constantly in Ciudad Bolivar, I already knew more or less what disease would come out of the results malaria, a condition that is increasing every day in Venezuela.

In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) observed an increase in malaria or malaria in the Americas, mainly in Brazil, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The WHO calculated 773,500 cases in this region and said that 53% happened in the neighboring country, followed by Brazil (22%), Colombia (8%) and Peru (7%). He also indicated that the other continents, except America, registered reductions in mortality in that same year and that in the South American nation malaria deaths increased the most.

According to the Center for Malaria Studies, part of the Institute of Higher Studies in Health attached to the Ministry of Health, there are 150 deaths from malaria in recent years, but the center indicates that the number could reach 1,500 people by the end of the year of 2018. “In 1950, Venezuela was the country that had made the most progress during the first malaria eradication campaign in several areas of the country. Now, probably, that disease affects almost half a million people per year. Which means the strongest increase reported anywhere in the world, “said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO Global Malaria Program, in April.

The last report of that organization says that in 2017 there were 411,000 cases in Venezuela with 84% incidents, compared to 2016. “We must add the patients who had relapses or those who had treatment failures, and we do not have those figures because the government does not publish them, but we estimate that there are between 800,000 and one million cases in the country, “said doctor Julio Castro , a professor at the Institute of Tropical Medicine of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). (Venezuela, the dictatorship of malaria).

In 1961, the oil country was registered by the WHO as a territory with 75% control of malaria, Being the first in the Americas to achieve such a feat. Spain, Holland and even the United States achieved it years later. However, Castro and the Venezuelan Health Observatory (OVS) say that the disease has not been eradicated completely, because being a tropical country, it will always exist. The truth is that malaria is reaching places where it has already been eliminated, since it commonly occurs in mining areas of the country, to the south.

“Before, those who entered the mines were those who became ill with malaria. But they arrived at a hospital center, they complied with their treatment, the recovery period and now, “said Richard Mendez, a mining engineer and inhabitant of Bolivar, who had malaria twice. The main state affected by this disease, with 41% of cases in Venezuela. (A hotter world, the mosquito’s paradise)

According to Dr. Castro, the reports in the South American country have been doubling their numbers every year since 2013. “In the 80s and 90s, there was an average between one thousand and two thousand per year. Now we go to 400,000 from 1998 until now, “said the infectious disease specialist and internist.

In the past only cases were presented mainly in Bolívar, but currently and according to the OVS, the disease is in seven other states such as Amazonas, Anzoátegui, Delta Amacuro, Miranda, Monagas and Sucre, to the southeast. In addition to Merida, west of Venezuela.

“I have not seen any fumigation in the mines, or in the cities and less in the population centers. The Ministry of Health previously sent a commission to fumigate the mines and thus controlled the vector transmitter that was the mosquito. “The fumigations were done before they started and after the rainy season ended in all of Bolívar,” said Méndez, who lives in the capital of that state The economic, political and social crisis that Venezuela is experiencing is the main factor that affects the increase of malaria and other diseases in that country, according to specialists.

The mining areas are rich by tradition and many seek to survive in them. A minor in the area told El Espectador that a kilo of gold can be worth US $ 30,000 and a kilo of diamond, depending on the type, US $ 230,000. However, Luis Lopez, ex-Minister of Health dismissed by Nicolás Maduro this year, indicated that malaria cases in the country decreased by 50% in 2018. This contrasts with the WHO data, which states that almost half of the Venezuelan population is at risk of contracting this disease.

“It is a problem related to human movement, with the area where there is an active transmission of malaria and the State’s ability to control it. You have to do vector control, monitor the mobilization, regulate the issue of the excavation. Improve the conditions in the country, to avoid that people go desperate to mining trying to find a better living condition, “he said.

In addition, according to WHO, Venezuela is the third country in Latin America that invests less in the fight against malaria, with less than US $ 2 per person. “In Venezuela, in general terms, there have always been two different parasites, Plasmodium anopheles and Plasmodium vivax. And its increase is not a biological problem of the parasite, that is a problem of government management of the disease. It is not fair to say that malaria is out of control because the parasite is different, “said Castro.

Prevention and treatment in Venezuela “We prevent ourselves from being stung, through what we hear on radio programs that give advice on how to avoid breeding mosquitoes, nothing more. There is no fumigation of any kind here, “said Richard Méndez, a resident of Bolivar state.

According to specialists, this disease can only be treated with antimalarials that are not marketed in pharmacies; but only distributed by the State, as in Bolívar, because in that region those who treat the disease are the health modules of the Government, where they offer free treatment.

However, experts say that, given the situation in Venezuela, the solution is not to treat malaria with pill, but to control it to prevent further cases of this disease in the country so as not to continue losing the fight against malaria.

About the author

Angela Nagata

Angela Nagata is a reporter for De Lune. After graduating from NYU with a master degree in history,Angela got an internship at WABC-TV New York and worked on profiling local businesses across the city.

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