‘It feels like we’re all dying slowly’: Venezuela’s doctors losing hope
With major shortages of medicines, many doctors are joining the exodus of people trying to find a better life abroad
After six years of studying and working part-time jobs, Cristian Diaga, 24, will soon graduate from medical school in Caracas, Venezuela. But instead of continuing his training in a top hospital in the country, as he had hoped, he is taking a job in a fast-food restaurant in Argentina – a situation he says is much more preferable.
“I do feel bad leaving. I think everyone would like to give something back to their country, but right now it is my life and future and all my possibilities to help my family to get out of this madness,” he says.
More than half of Venezuelans between 15 and 29 want to move abroad permanently, according to a poll carried out by the US firm Gallup and shared exclusively with the Guardian.
“In Venezuela, it feels like we are all just dying slowly and there’s no hope for a change. I don’t care if I’m gonna work as a doctor or not. I just want to have food, medicines, security, a house, a car, and be able to give a good life to my loved ones,” he says.
But it’s not as though many of Diaga’s relatives still live in the country – the majority have fled to Argentina by road through Brazil. And soon he will join them.
“My younger brother had to leave because the urgent medicines [he needs] can’t be found here and with my mum’s salary it’s impossible to buy them in another country.
“If I go to Argentina, at least I will be with my family and together I think we’ll be able to make progress,” he says.
Shortages of medicines are well-documented in Venezuela, with patients often having to buy prescriptions and basic medical supplies using contacts abroad and risk having them sent over, or purchasing at highly-inflated prices on the black market. But many are going without.
“Every day we see people dying for diseases that we know exactly how to cure but when you don’t even have gloves, masks, gauzes, medicines or some big but necessary equipment, it’s too hard.
“And at the same time it’s scary, because some families have ended up hitting us, frustrated and feeling that we don’t want to do anything to save their loved ones and that we are guilty for this dramatic situation,” he says.
Colombia, which officially took in more than half a million Venezuelans over the last six months of 2017, is continuing to to be a destination of choice among those looking for a better life. Elena Rincones, 25, a political scientist from Caracas, is relocating there this month to make sure she has access to the medicine she needs.
“I’d rather be working as a waitress and being able to ship my father his meds than watch him die slowly because we can’t find them nor afford them if we do. Last month alone I spent 10 times the minimum wage most Venezuelans earn on my dad’s medicine for his diabetes.
“And last time I got sick, I had to look in about six pharmacies to get the medication I needed. There are no medicines, people are even dying due to lack of antibiotics,” she says.