Report: Full-scale UN response needed in Venezuela

Two organizations are asking the United Nations to provide a full-scale response to what they call an unprecedented humanitarian emergency caused by the collapse of the Venezuelan health system

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.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Guterres, said in response that the U.N. is "deeply concerned" by the situation in Venezuela and already has been scaling up operations, "focusing on nutrition, on health and protection."

He said staffing has grown from about 190 in September 2017 to over just 300 in March. "This has allowed us to equip hospitals with emergency medical supplies as well as generators, provide pregnant women and children with nutritional supplements and vaccinate more children"

But he declined to say if the U.N. was considering an emergency declaration, noting that it would need "the consent of the government, in order to distribute humanitarian aid along with our principles of neutrality and impartiality."

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."

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AP correspondent Claudia Torrens at United Nations contributed to this story.

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