As Venezuela Collapses, Refugees Pour Into Brazil

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gestures as a parrot, wearing Chavez's traditional red beret, sits on his shoulder during the march in support him in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Oct 13, 2002. A cuban flag waves behind.A defiant Chavez rejected demands that he resign or call early elections as he rallied thousands celebrating his dramatic return to power after a coup six months ago.(AP Photo/Fernando LLano)

Washington Post

As throngs of Venezue­lans trek to Brazil in search of food and medicine, hospi­tals along Brazil’s sparse­ly populat­ed north­ern border are strug­gling to pick up the pieces of Venezuela’s failing health-care system.

A spiral­ing econom­ic crisis and hyper­in­fla­tion have cleaned Venezue­lan hospi­tals of needles, bandages and medicine. Desper­ate for care and often undoc­u­ment­ed, patients are overwhelm­ing Brazil­ian emergen­cy rooms as they turn up by the thousands.

“Demand is growing faster than I can manage. Every month the number of patients grows exponen­tial­ly. How can I plan for that?” said Marcilene Moura, the 45-year-old direc­tor of the gener­al hospi­tal in the Brazil­ian border state of Roraima. “What happens if this contin­ues? I’m going to run out of supplies by the middle of the year.”

The flood of patients is also causing anoth­er crisis in Roraima, a poor and remote state that serves as the gateway into Brazil for Venezue­lans: Roraima Gener­al does not have facil­i­ties to care for the bodies of patients who die there. It has resort­ed to sending corpses to the police station morgue, where they remain for up to three months while author­i­ties try to identi­fy them. The morgue, intend­ed to house victims of violent crimes, is so overwhelmed that bodies are sometimes stacked two to a drawer, accord­ing to an employ­ee who declined to give her name because she was not autho­rized to speak to the media.

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