Report: Full-scale UN response needed in Venezuela

WASHINGTON (AP) — The humanitarian emergency caused by the collapse of the Venezuelan health system requires a full-scale response by the United Nations, two organizations said Thursday.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Human Rights Watch called on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to have the UN emergency relief coordinator address Venezuela's crisis as a top priority and to request official data from Venezuelan authorities in order to assess the scope of the crisis.

Guterres' office did not immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press for a comment.

The two organizations said in a 71-page joint report that the administration of President Nicolas Maduro has exacerbated the crisis through its efforts to suppress information about the problems.

"No matter how hard they try, Venezuelan authorities cannot hide the reality on the ground," said Shannon Doocy, associate professor of international health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. "We need U.N. leadership to help end this severe crisis and save lives."

Venezuelan authorities have failed to publish health and nutrition data and retaliated against those who did, according to the report.

Maduro refused humanitarian aid for several years, saying it was unneeded and would amount to a foreign intervention to remove him from power.

Last week, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that it is poised to start distributing assistance to an estimated 650,000 people in the South American country.

That amount is well below the 3.7 million Venezuelans who were undernourished between 2015 and 2017, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.

"All the evidence indicates that the health system in Venezuela has almost completely collapsed," said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, senior Americas researcher for HRW. "We are facing a devastating humanitarian crisis that is unprecedented in Latin America."

Besides the lack of food and medicines, the report documents increased numbers of maternal and infant deaths, the unchecked spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and sharp increases in the transmission of infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.

The authors interviewed more than 150 people, including health care professionals, Venezuelans seeking or in need of medical care or food who had recently arrived in Colombia and Brazil, representatives from international and non-governmental humanitarian organizations, U.N. officials, and Brazilian and Colombian government officials.

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Luis Alonso Lugo on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/luisalonsolugo