The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is accelerating the reappearance of diseases such as malaria, Zika, Chagas and dengue, which also presents health risks for neighboring countries, warns a study published on Thursday by The Lancet.
The frequency of outbreaks of chikungunya and zika with the capacity to cause epidemics is increasing, as they suspect that up to two million people were able to catch chikungunya in 2014, a figure twelve times higher than the official estimate.
“In addition to the reappearance of measles and other preventable infectious diseases with vaccines, the continuous increase in malaria could soon become uncontrollable,” warns Martin Llewellyn, of the University of Glasgow (United Kingdom), who has led this work together with colleagues in Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador.
The seroprevalence of Chagas in children under 10 years of age was between 2008 and 2018 at 12.5% in certain communities of the country, compared to 0.5% registered in 1998, its lowest historical rate.
The dengue incidence rate has multiplied fivefold between 2010 and 2016, with 211 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, while the experts have detected six national epidemics – each larger – between 2007 and 2016, compared to four suffered in the previous 16 years.
Regional, global and national health authorities can apply “many solutions” to address this situation, even with limited resources, but must act now, the scientists stress in a statement from The Lancet in which they also ask the Government of Caracas to accept” “international humanitarian aid to alleviate the situation.
The research, developed by an international group of experts, indicates that this type of infectious diseases transmitted by vectors (such as ticks or mosquitoes) could cause “public health emergencies” of “hemispheric” proportions.
This health crisis, the experts add, threatens to spread to other neighboring countries due to the “massive emigration” that, only in 2018, caused the daily departure of some 5,500 Venezuelans.
For this study, the experts analyzed “published” and “unpublished” data that indicate that between 2010 (29,736 cases) and 2015 (136,402 cases) the number of malaria cases grew around 359% in Venezuela.
In this context, some Brazilian border regions have detected an increase in “imported cases of malaria”, as in Romaira (north), where they have gone from 1,538 in 2014 to 3,129 in 2017, while in other countries the situation “is not clear, “observe the scientists.
Chagas, one of the vector-borne diseases that cause the most heart failure in Latin America, is also reappearing in Venezuela, where its “active transmission” is now at the highest level in the last 20 years.
“We ask members of the Organization of American States and other international political bodies to exert more pressure on the Venezuelan government to accept the humanitarian aid offered by the international community to strengthen the health system,” concludes Llewellyn.
Effective control of the “growing health crisis” will also require policies of “regional coordination” and a “solid commitment” from the international and national community.
The experts propose that the countries strengthen their bilateral cooperation and highlight the successes obtained in recent years by Ecuador and Peru in their joint fight to control malaria.
“The harsh reality is that, as a consequence of the absence of surveillance, diagnosis and preventive measures, these figures probably underestimate the true situation,” says Llewellyn.
The crisis, they recall, has led the Venezuelan health system to “collapse”, while the decline of public health and surveillance programs have favored the increase of cases of this type of disease, as well as its spread to other territories of the country …
They consider it key that they reinforce their “surveillance and treatment strategies” and that they share resources related to “information, personnel, medication, and insecticides”.
Between 2016 and 2017, this increase was 71%, from 240,613 to 411,586 cases of malaria, due, they explain, to the high cost of medicines and mosquito control programs.